This is the first complete Beethoven symphony cycle on DVD and it is one of the greatest visual documents of our age. We all know of Claudio Abbado's experience in the Beethoven symphonies but seeing this septuagenarian conducting his beloved Berliners on home ground is utterly amazing.
TDK's filming is exquisite, at times entering on the instruments, focusing on the well-dressed members in the audience and also giving us superb full angle shots of the hall. It would be pertinent however to dissect Abbado's performances one by one as each symphony has its own particular characteristics.
The first DVD brings #1, #6 and #8 in some lovely performances. Abbado's tempo for the 1st is lively and bucolic with a beautiful transition between the Allegro molto and the Allegro con brio. The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra are clearly enjoying themselves with some players losing strings and the winds thoroughly in harmony. I enjoyed the performance immensely.
The Sixth Symphony is another elegant performance, full of character and insight. There is a palpable sense of love and beauty involved and the brisk tempo adds to the sense of a unique moment. In the Eighth, Abbado adds to the character of this lovely little symphony and the filming exposes an orchestra clearly in complete command of itself.
The Eighth is also superbly done with the menuetto showing off the deft Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra players and the magisterial sweep of the Finale is jovially caught by Abbado.
Symphonies 2 & 5 are paired on the next DVD and both are superb performances. I was jumping at my feet after the Finale of the 5th, such was the adrenalin and frission that Abbado creates at the end. The second is also very fine although I felt it was slightly too stringent for my tastes.
The third disc has the Fourth and Seventh. Abbado directs a congenial and mercurial Fourth with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra on absolute top form. Speeds are pretty fast and the excitement of the music, 'slender and graceful' between giants is really brought to the fore.
The Seventh remains my favourite symphony and Abbado directs a suitably full blooded reading very much in the Karajan tradition. The Italian audience are on their feet at the end of a reading that really comes into superb life on all counts. The mercurial Allegretto is hair-raising whilst the dashing Finale is a joyous and exuberant conclusion. For me this DVD is the highlight of the set.
Finally, we have the Third and Ninth on a full length final DVD. The Eroica is imbued with similar qualities and has a very exciting Finale but does fall a bit flat in the Funeral March which is slightly bland. The Ninth is simply a reissue of an earlier 2000 version recorded in the Philharmonie as a European Concert and is excellent in polish and superb sound with the impressive Philharmonie truly an awesome concert venue.
To sum up, this is an excellent Beethoven cycle that contains much more high moments than low ones and holds it own until more competition comes along.
Copyright © 2003, Gerald Fenech