- Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21
- Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 36
- Symphony No. 3 in E flat major ("Eroica"), Op. 55
- Symphony No. 4 in B flat major, Op. 60
- Symphony No. 5 in C minor ("Fate") Op. 67
- Symphony No. 6 in F major ("Pastoral") Op. 68
- Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92
- Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93
- Symphony No. 9 in D minor ("Choral") Op. 125
Beethoven: The Symphoniesby Claudio Abbado
Let's get right to the nitty-gritty: How do Claudio Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic stack up against the considerable competition? After all, this five-disc set not only vies with countless classic accounts of the Beethoven symphonies from Furtwängler and Toscanini to Bernstein and Karajan, but also with more recent contenders by Barenboim, Gardiner, and Zinman, to name a few. Happily, Abbado's performances more than hold their own. In fact, they may just be the finest versions of the digital age to date. First of all, there's the incomparably beautiful playing of the Berlin Philharmonic. The Berliners have recorded these symphonies countless times, but Abbado's direction seems to make audible every detail in the score: the churning second violins and violas in the first movement of the Fourth Symphony, for example, or the quietly chirping woodwinds in the "Scene by the Brook" from the Sixth. Abbado is unusually sensitive to orchestral balance, resulting in sonorities that consistently engage the attention and delight the ear. If you don't think of Beethoven as a colorist, these often startlingly vivid performances should convince you otherwise.
Abbado's tempos also deserve special mention, as nearly all of them seem spot-on. In line with current scholarship about period performance practice, he chooses generally brisk speeds. But unlike Zinman, who adheres unequivocally to the composer's metronome markings, Abbado allows for more breathing room. The first movement of the Fifth Symphony provides an instructive comparison. Zinman takes it at a ferocious clip, generating enormous energy from the very start. Abbado begins at a slightly slower tempo; at first, it might seem that the intensity is pitched at a lower level, but the power builds as the movement progresses, and a tangible dramatic form emerges. This also allows the orchestra to dig in more, producing great intensity of sound, not simply of speed.
The felicities and small revelations of this cycle are too numerous to mention. Suffice to say these performances capture the music's vitality and warmth, charm and rebelliousness, melancholy and exaltation. Maestro Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic make these familiar masterpieces sound as fresh and exciting as they did the first time you heard them.
- Release Date:
- Deutsche Grammophon
Performance CreditsClaudio Abbado Primary Artist
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Wow! It's as if every performance of the 9th Symphony has been played from under a blanket, until now. Claudio Abbado and the Berliner Philharmoniker have given a gift to the world that Ludwig Van Beethoven, I'll bet, would have applauded because of its clarity, dynamics, passion and accuracy in Abbado's interpretation. I don't understand classical music, but I know that I like this recording, and the 9th alone was worth the price of the whole collection of symphonies. From the beginning of the second movement, I knew that my home theater setup was right. The kettle drums and the flutes were precisely located on the sound stage, and the reverb in the room made it like being there. The rear channel delay was spot-on for this performance, an impression driven home by the choral, duets and soloists in the final movement. The 2700 watts in the subwoofer created a transparent presence for the speaker itself but added immensely to the performance. The system volume was high enough to drive my wife and the girls to distraction (there were too many of 'em to just throw out!) and finally to complain, but to me, occupying the same room as the speakers, it drove to tears of shear enjoyment. And the third movement was like a totally different work emitting from a parallel universe but eventually merging with the familiar themes from before in a perfect blend of purpose, each sparring for dominance late in the presentation then morphing into a more beautiful yet familiar melody. Beethoven did good. Now on to the 7th, my second favorite of the Beethoven symphonies. Gotta love it!