I Don't Understand,
This review is from: Sym 9/Coriolan Ovt (Audio CD)I honestly don't understand why this recording of the Ninth is so popular. Karajan's interpretation is really great and all but there are many better alternatives to this particular recording.
The first movement is boring. I was listening to it and I was trying to find what is so special about it. There really isn't. It's simply mediocre; I mean the orchestra doesn't make any mistakes, but that's about it. The opening tutti sounds like a joke if you compare it to other recordings from Furtwangler, Bohm, Barenboim, Klemperer, Celibidache, Giulini or even Karajan again. And for what is known as the most violent recapitulation in all of music, this recording is very underwhelming; quite anticlimactic.
A lot of people like the second movement of this recording. I've got news for you. Karajan wasn't the only guy who could play this movement fast. But Karajan's way of playing it isn't even interesting. The first few bars may make an impression, but if you keep listening, you'll find all he's really doing is keeping a steady pulse.
The third movement...if there's a high point of the interpretation of this Ninth, then it would probably be here. But it doesn't last very long; once we get to the fanfares near the end of the movement we are greeted to our underplaying brass section (you could say this foreshadows the brass we're going to hear in the next movement....not).
The finale is another story. The opening of the "horror fanfare" sounds nothing of the sort, but just airy and useless. When the winds come in to play the Joy theme, all you can hear are the flute players, which gives the effect of it being very underplayed. For example, in Karajan's 1976 recording (just as an example) when they enter, for one it actually sounds like a forte as marked in the score, and you can hear that there are actually trumpet and horn players in the orchestra.
Many people say that the solo singing in this recording is magnificent, but I say it doesn't matter how well they sing if your chorus sounds like its covered in a layer of fuzz. Karajan is notorious for having a back balanced chorus and this is the worst case of it. When they come in to sing after the long fugato, they are so terribly back balanced that someone with perfect pitch could pick apart the 1st violin melody easier then trying to hear the chorus sing "Freude schoener Gotterfunken..."
Now you can skip to the coda to hear one very fine mess. There is no bass. It sounds like when you turn the treble on your speakers to the max and all you get is lovely fuzz fuzz fuzz. All you can hear are the chorus (with their lovely "z" articulations on "Diesen Kuss der ganzen Welt" which is all you can really hear anyway) and a bunch of flutes, piccolos and maybe some cymbals. We can finally hear some trumpet once the chorus finishes singing, but alas it sounds like there's only one trumpet player playing! And he quickly gets audibly cut off by strings!
I would even prefer Karajan's first Beethoven Ninth with the Vienna Philharmonic (in 1947 mono) than this fruitcake.
Now if you really like this recording that's all fine and dandy. I suggest you get out of your bubble and maybe you could buy two recordings of the ninth, you know maybe for some comparison just so you know what kind of garbage you're putting up with by listening to this one all the time.
My recommendation for a better performance from Karajan would be basically any other recording he did. My favorite would be the 1976 studio version. Why? The orchestra sounds more like an orchestra (we finally acknowledge that brass players exist), the chorus sounds more realistic (not like fuzz), and the recording has a lot more backbone (in layman's terms, balls) than this one can ever claim to have.
As for the Coriolan overture...meh; I've heard versions that I myself prefer to this one, but chances are you're buying this for the Ninth and not the overture.
EDIT: Recently I got to hear the SACD mastering of this recording...even with the improved sound, it still doesn't measure up. This is truly the weakest sounding version of Karajan's versions; like I said, try ANY OTHER ONE and you'll see what I mean. I have a strong feeling that it had to do with the acoustic of the church they were recording in; the new Philharmonie had not yet been built when this was recorded. There is actually a LIVE performance of Karajan conducting the Ninth as the first performance in the new Philharmonie, from October 15 1963 (not 1962) on a German DG CD. Same interpretation practically, but now the Berlin Orchestra sounds like an orchestra (I suspect due to the acoustic); and I must say, the coda especially on that recording will blow your friggin socks off. Take note that the chorus balance is MUCH better. It's available from Amazon Germany; I guarantee you it will make you a lot happier than this one at any rate.