Beethoven's Symphony no.9 "Choral" is one of the greatest symphonies ever written, beautiful and powerful all at once. Beethoven's best symphony is up for debate, personally it is a tough call between the "Choral" and the "Eroica"(no 3, and the symphony where you can hear significant development of the symphonic genre) symphonies, excluding these two it's probably the seventh though all nine make for very compelling listening. This performance of the "Choral" is a classic, who better to perform it than one of the best orchestras of all times and one of the greatest and most influential conductors of the 20th century? The performance is done in a very welcoming and well-lit venue, and it is beautifully shot. Maybe there are too many shots of Karajan meditating and feeling the music, but it is a very nice effect to see and the shots themselves are lovely. The music is of course masterful, and the quote from C.Michael Bailey describing the musical quality of the performance as "a controlled hurricane, executed with Teutonic precision" couldn't be more true. The Berlin Philharmonic play with no obvious flaws to pick out whatsoever, the sound is phenomenal and the balances and textures rich and controlled, the lower strings and horns are especially good in the third movement. The intensity and dynamic range of the first movement builds up wonderfully from the allegro non troppo to the poco maestoso(and beyond), the second movement positively dances, the third movement is sublimely controlled showing no signs of fatigue from any instrumental section for a movement as lengthy as this one and the final movement is spirit-rousing and powerful.
The chorus are stirring and full of emotion, the contrasts of bombastic energy to ethereal floating in the top voices are a joy to hear. This couldn't be possible without Karajan, whose musicianship is remarkable and his deportment enigmatic, it is clear also that he feels the music in his bones and not just from the camera shots. Especially good is the end section of the final movement, which is done far more thrillingly than any of his CD recordings of the symphony put together. The soloists are worth a mention too, standing out in particular was Jose Van Dam whose singing of the opening An Die Freude section is enough to make anybody sit up and listen. Anna Tomowa-Sintow sings with her usual beautiful rich timbre, and her floating high notes in the section with all four soloists together towards the end are really striking. Rene Kollo's voice sounds stronger and freer than most other times I've heard him sing, there have been instances where he has sounded stiff and reedy, it comes across very well in the Froh, Wie Seine Sonnen Fliegen section and the men's chorus are good in not out-singing him. Agnes Baltsa's voice isn't captured quite as effectively as the other three, but she still sings beautifully and musically and blends effectively with both Kollo and Tomowa-Sintow. Lastly the sound quality, which was so good that you get the feeling that you are there performing it, which is such a great feeling for a piece as amazing as the "Choral" symphony. In conclusion, a classic performance, the audience loved it and so did this viewer. 10/10 Bethany Cox
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