Recorded in the Philharmonie in 1976, Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic deliver a ferocious, fiery and positively combustible "Choral" Symphony. Karajan's friend and colleague, Michel Glotz, is recording producer - quele horreur! But never fear, recording engineer "Tonemeister", Gunter Hermanns, had absolute command of the recording desk/mixing console and microphone placement. Of course, Karajan would have offered advice, regarding the sound quality - Karajan thrived in the recording studio - and history informs us that Karajan's views were not taken seriously and were to be taken with a pinch of salt. However, given Karajan's near obsession with recorded sound it is hard to believe that he did not make some useful and valuable contributions when it came to the final edit/mixing and mastering of his recordings.
There is much debate as to which of Karajan's recordings of Beethoven's Ninth is the best. Well, in my opinion, that would be Karajan's Philharmonie 1977 New Year's Eve live concert recording, available on DVD. I am in a minority when I say that my preferred studio recording is Karajan's Eighties, digital recording of the Ninth - but there it is. Whatever, all of Karajan's recordings of the Ninth are excellent. Of course, this Blu-ray Audio release is Karajan's 1976 studio recording remastered in 24-bit/96kHz, hi-res sound quality. And we hear the full 24-bit/96kHz high resolution sonics on this Blu-ray Audio disc... no Compact Disc conversion reduced to low-res 16-bit/44.1 kHz.
This is the finest remastering of this performance - I own them all - and there is no questionable "tone control" twiddling - no eq manipulation altering the frequency response - the frequency response is flat, and this may give the impression that the remaster is lacking in low-frequency extension. In earlier remasters, the bass is emphasised - DG Galleria, for example - but here we have a more accurate representation of what is on the actual master tape. Anyway, there was once talk of Karajan's recordings having "artificial balances", but Karajan understood that classical music recording in the studio - an art form in itself - has little to do with recreating a natural concert hall balance/acoustic. The Blu-ray Audio sound quality is incredibly transparent, with a wide and spacious acoustic, and all sections of the orchestra are clearly defined. The vast forces involved show-off Blu-ray Audio's increased dynamic range; there's no hardening up at climaxes, very little audio compression, this is abundantly clear when the choir and soloists and orchestra erupt in the "Ode to Joy" finale. The music expands as it ought to, and the choir isn't an indistinct, muddled mass... earlier remasters don't have the see-through transparency and the finale can sound muddy, descending into sonic chaos. The soloists are excellent, and deliver fine performances which to my ears want for nothing... I think the human voice is another plus when it comes to Blu-ray Audio sonics - this is where Blu-ray excels; you'll not hear a more faithful reproduction of the human voice on any other format. Try listening to the recent Blu-ray Audio release of Haitink's Concertgebouw "Das Lied von der Erde" with Janet Baker and James King which has jaw-dropping Blu-ray Audio sonics.
So, Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic deliver a performance of great power and awe-inspiring, monumental stature - some might say hard-driven? - visceral, bold and visionary with incredible weight and depth of tone, and dynamic scale is colossal. In the Adagio, Karajan generates a sublime beauty - a masterclass in legato - beautiful phrasing, a seamless articulation of the notes which few conductors are able to match... Karajan's 1970s Ninth may well be hard-edged and brutal to some ears, but when it came to orchestral colour and tonal beauty, the Karajan Sound is unique. Herbert von Karajan is sorely missed - we shall not see his like again...
- Audio CD
- Number of Discs: 1
- Format: CD
- Label: Deutsche Grammophon
- Run Time: 201 minutes
- ASIN: B00006WL2B
- Customer Reviews: 44 customer ratings