Abbado has recorded this set of symphonies several times and this disc is taken from his last set recorded in 2000-2001. It represents a considerable modification of his previous interpretations and this series reflects his thinking in the light of recent research into period performing practice. It is generally thought to be his finest whole set.
Abbado uses the new score prepared by Jonathan Del Mar which incorporates `the very latest Beethoven research and represents a valuable supplement to the experience gained by Abbado over many years' (booklet quote). Although Abbado does not go as far as using authentic period styled instruments, he nevertheless uses a much reduced orchestral size in these performances and avoids part doubling in the wind. The speeds are generally fleeter without losing necessary gravitas in the slow movements. Speeds are kept constant and avoid the Romantic period type of fluctuations to be found in the recent set of Thielemann performances for example. The same can be said of phrasing. Textures are leaner but not acerbic as in some early examples of early instrument performance.
The result of this is enhanced transparency while delivering considerable dramatic weight. Although this is not in any way a `Romantic' interpretation of these symphonies, it is impossible to miss the passionate nature of the performances which incorporate plenty of performing `brio' from all concerned.
This is a very successful pair of performances. The sound is presented in DD 5.1, DTS 5.1 and stereo. This is superior to CD sound as the file size on DVD is larger and of wider range. The camera work is good giving close-up and more distant shots without distracting hyperactivity. It is nevertheless also true that this was recorded prior to the HD cameras available today and therefore the images are prone to pixilation if the viewing distance is too near for the size of the screen being used.
Musically and sonically this disc is easily worth a full 5 stars but as the visual aspect is more limited as described above I feel that 4 stars is probably the fairest overall grade. The perfect solution would be for Abbado to re-record the whole series again in the same way but in HD. As this is unlikely to happen I think that for many purchasers this will be as good as it gets! So this remains highly recommended for those prepared to compromise on pre-HD imaging.