Recordings of all the Beethoven symphonies with their chief conductor are always a milestone in the artistic work of the Berliner Philharmoniker. So it was with Herbert von Karajan and Claudio Abbado, and expectations are correspondingly high for this cycle conducted by Sir Simon Rattle. Where does the special status of these symphonies come from? Simon Rattle has an explanation: “One of the things Beethoven does is to give you a mirror into yourself – where you are now as a musician.” In fact, this music contains such a wealth of extreme emotions and brilliant compositional ideas that reveal the qualities of the orchestra and its conductor as if under a magnifying glass.
Recorded between 1964 and 1968, Paul Kletzki's respected cycle of Ludwig van Beethoven's symphonies on Supraphon rightly should be classified as a historical item for specialists, rather than as a recommended option for anyone seeking a great (and great sounding) modern set. Kletzki was an admired and popular conductor, noted for working with both European and American orchestras, and his interpretations of Beethoven are intelligent and insightful, regarded by some reviewers as among the finest of their time; the performances are still valuable for their musicality and significance among mid-20th century offerings.
EuroArts has released a special edition of all nine Beethoven Symphonies played by the Berlin Philharmonic under former chief conductor Claudio Abbado. Each of the symphonies is a masterpiece in itself - they are all quite different, each representing the composer's musical idiom at a particular stage in his development. This DVD includes symphonies Nos. 2 and 5 and offers a 'Conductor Camera' in the famous Fifth Symphony showing the maestro from the perspective of the musician. The recordings feature interpretations that are the fruit of decades of Claudio Abbado's involvement with Beethoven.
In February 2001 Abbado and the BPO were guests at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome to perform the Beethoven symphonies. For these, Abbado chose to use a new edition by Jonathan del Mar, which consists of existing manuscripts, and "corrections by Beethoven," which gave the conductor the opportunty to "throw new light on his reading, which takes a consistent and lucid approach to articulation, phrasing and dynamics." The conductor elected to use fewer strings, reducing the bass group in symphonies 1, 2, 4 and 8 to only three double basses and four cellos. He also uses only two horns in symphony 5, three in symphony 3. The result is an uncommonly transparent listening experience. And the performances are spirited to say the least, no dawdling here whatever. There always is a forward impetus to these dynamic performances which are magnificently executed by the orchestra.
It's increasingly common to hear the symphonies of Ludwig van Beethoven played on original instruments and according to authentic period practices, which have become de rigueur for many contemporary conductors and orchestras. But Martin Haselböck and the Vienna Academy Orchestra go one step further by playing them in their original Viennese venues, thus creating something close to the sound and impact of the first performances.
Having heard the sixth symphony on a radio broadcast (albeit missing the second movement because of problems at the station), I decided to go out on a limb and buy the complete symphonies, being completely unfamiliar with Atterberg.
It was a decision I do not regret.
Throughout the 1970s, conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein was invited to lead the greatest orchestras of the world in a number of concerts that since such time have become legendary. Now, these historic performances are available on DVD for the first time. This Leonard Bernstein collectors's boxed set is the ultimate concert experience on DVD, and it is also the perfect companion to the Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts DVD set.