|Beethoven - The Symphonies
Berlin Philharmoniker; Claudio Abbado
Deutsche Grammophon 477 5864
This is Claudio Abbado’s third complete Beethoven cycle and his second with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Recorded 2000-2001, it features all the fine production and execution that listeners have come to expect from Deutsche Grammophon. It does not, however, offer anything new. It has almost all the force of Karajan’s 1963 Beethoven cycle but little else to distinguish it from that older, much loved set of renditions. Certainly the ensemble is in top form but Abbado’s vision is one of lyric clarity that doesn’t distinguish itself from among The BPO’s Beethoven recording history.
While this makes for a lukewarm reception, the five disc set is handsome and overall musically satisfying. The packaging is elegant. Most of the interpretations seem lifted from Karajan, except they lack the ferocious element that pushed Karajan’s sound over the top. The orchestral preamble to bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff’s entry in the finale of the Ninth Symphony, for example, doesn’t have the dynamic kick that forces the listener’s ears wide open.
Conversely, anyone who considers Karajan just too brutal an interpreter will probably adore these renditions. This may be Abbado’s final shot at this symphonic cycle and his melodic strengths largely make up for his lack of tutti crunch. These performances reveal a consummate professional who has all the tools but not the genius necessary to place him among the greatest directors who’ve held the podium for Berlin’s top orchestra.
Wiener Philharmoniker; Daniel Harding
Deutsche Grammophon 477 7347
Gustav Mahler did not live to add the finishing details to the grand torso of his 10th symphony, though he had gotten as far as orchestrating the first and third movements of this five-movement work before his untimely death at the age of 50. For decades only these two movements were performed until Mahler’s widow Alma finally consented to allowing Deryck Cooke’s “performing edition” of the entire score to be performed in 1963. The edition for this recording is Cooke’s 1976 third revision, published posthumously in 1989.
Though the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra has recorded the opening Adagio movement several times under prominent conductors (Bernstein and Abbado both considered this the only legitimate portion of the work), this is the VPO’s first recording of the complete symphony. Oddly, the familiar first movement receives on the whole the least convincing rendition. Fortunately, as the symphony progresses both orchestra and conductor rise to the occasion, hitting their stride in the waltzing fourth movement and moving sensitively through the finale to provide a touchingly expressive end to this magnificent work.
Album and booklet are festooned with a half dozen fashion shots of the intense young maestro Daniel Harding (Sir Simon Rattle’s most prominent protégé) but nary a one of the composer. As this is Harding’s debut appearance on the exclusive DG label it appears that no expense has been spared to provide a proper studio realization of the work. Recorded on-site in the Großer Saal of the Musikverein, this disc boasts much finer acoustics than DG’s recent string of meretricious live recordings.