Beethoven: Symphony #9

Beethoven Symphony No. 9 Berliner Philharmoniker, von Karajan, Performed 31DEC1977  ★★★★★★
Yes, I know. You can only give 5 stars total. This production was just too good to limit to five stars. As you could tell from the cover, this was the DVD version. Most DVD versions tend to have the camera drift to insignificant parts of the stage, though this DVD does a reasonable job of directing the attention to where one would be looking should you actually be in the audience.
A number of years ago, Alan Segall (a professional musician) and I blindly played to each other versions of many symphonies including segments of Beethoven’s 9th, and both of us peculiarly picked out Karajan routinely as the favorite or preferred rendering. This was especially true of Beethoven’s 9th. Toscanini was bottom of the list. I grew up on Toscanini’s 9th. Ron Bonneau recommended Toscanini’s 9th, so we assumed that it was the greatest. We were wrong. I can recall sitting in our Mill Street house basement, playing Toscanini’s 9th on vinyl, sitting around with brother Lewis and a close friend Steve Miller, adoring Beethoven and his 9th, of course, Toscanini’s version. This was our start on music appreciation. I’ve come a long way since then. Beethoven still has his magnetic attraction, but so do many other composers from Bach to Shostakovich.
Karajan’s conducting style certainly is somewhat different. Betsy thought he was very unemotional. This is simply not true. Oddly, Karajan rarely opens his eyes–I think that he is too consumed with the music. Those who accuse Karajan of showmanship fail to pay attention to other conductors like Bernstein, who make the wildest theatric gestures throughout an entire performance. Others have accused Karajan of being a Nazi and thus objected to his music. True, Karajan was a Nazi, like Furtwängler, and every other great conductor (except for Bernstein) of the twentieth century. I can think of many folks who are worse than being Nazis, like being arrogant Amerikan prigs. Why is it that every ethical discussion eventually likens Hitler as the penultimate evil? We forget the other competitive evil people of the twentieth century, namely, Stalin, Churchill, Roosevelt, and Tojo. Honestly, I’d have a hard time accusing any one of them of being either better or worse than the rest of the bunch. But, that’s me, and I’m going off track from the discussion. For whatever you think politically of Karajan, there is no denying his musical genius. That genius is clearly seen in this performance, which many feel to be one of the greatest renderings of Beethoven’s 9th ever. Unless you read the Penguin guide, where the little Lilliputian Englanders set around eating their crumpets and sucking their tea with the baby finger protruding, objecting that the production was too emotional, or that original instruments were not used, or that Karajan was singing along during the choral parts. Too bad. They just don’t know good music.