Beethoven: 9 Symphonien; Ouvertüren

Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra / Herbert von Karajan

(CD - Deutsche Grammophon #4429924)

Review by Blair Sanderson

Herbert von Karajan's 1984 set of Ludwig van Beethoven's nine symphonies was the fourth complete set he had recorded, and its reception among critics was mixed. Usually ranked below Karajan's famous 1962-1963 set, to which many listeners give top honors among all recordings of Beethoven symphonies, this late cycle has a bright and incisive orchestral sound and seems to have a nervous edge, but because the tempos are in many instances slower and the pacing is variable, it lacked the urgency and excitement of the earlier performances. By the time of this recording, Karajan was long regarded as a legend, and he was highly respected in his relationship with the Berlin Philharmonic, if not openly revered, so the playing is first-rate and the conductor was able to get anything he asked from his players. Even so, these performances have won relatively few admirers among his fans. The performances were digitally recorded and Deutsche Grammophon's sound has a shallow surface quality common to early digital recordings.