BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 1 in C, Op. 21. Symphony No. 6 in F, Op. 68 Pastorale. Symphony No. 8 in F, Op. 93.
Berlin Philharmonic Orch/Claudio Abbado, cond.
EUROARTS DVD 20 51169 5.1 surround TT: 104 min.

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 36. Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67.
Berlin Philharmonic Orch/Claudio Abbado, cond.
EUROARTS DVD 20 51115 9 5.1 surround TT: 75 min.

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 4 in B flat, Op. 60. Symphony No. 7 in A, Op. 92.
Berlin Philharmonic Orch/Claudio Abbado, cond.
EUROARTS DVD 20 5117 9 5.1 surround TT: 81 min.

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 3 in E Flat, Op. 55 Eroica. Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 Choral.
Karita Mattila, soprano; Violeta Urmana, mezzo-soprano; Thomas Moser, tenor; Eike Wilm Schulte, baritone; Swedish Radio Choir; Eric Ericson Camber Choir; Berlin Philharmonic Orch/Claudio Abbado, cond.
EUROARTS DVD 20 5113 9 (2 DVDS) 5.1 surround TT: 148 min

These are fabulous DVD videos! Claudio Abbado became Artistic Director of the Berlin Philharmonic in 1989 shortly after the death of Herbert von Karajan. His appointment was a surprise to many and there were a few unsettled years, but Abbado and the BPO soon became accustomed to each other and the partnership has produced countless superb performances. Particularly in the last few years they have been working together magnificently, evidenced in a number of their recordings. Abbado of course is an old hand at Beethoven; he has recorded complete sets of the symphonies with both the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonic Orchestras.

In February 2001 Abbado and the BPO were guests at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome to perform the Beethoven symphonies. For these, Abbado chose to use a new edition by Jonathan del Mar, which consists of existing manuscripts, and "corrections by Beethoven," which gave the conductor the opportunty to "throw new light on his reading, which takes a consistent and lucid approach to articulation, phrasing and dynamics." The conductor elected to use fewer strings, reducing the bass group in symphonies 1, 2, 4 and 8 to only three double basses and four cellos. He also uses only two horns in symphony 5, three in symphony 3. The result is an uncommonly transparent listening experience. And the performances are spirited to say the least, no dawdling here whatever. There always is a forward impetus to these dynamic performances which are magnificently executed by the orchestra.

This is not the Berlin Philharmonic of the Karajan era. There was an uproar in the orchestra when Karajan wanted to hire a woman, the superb clarinetist Sabine Meyer (who afterwards went on to a distinguished career in solo and chamber music performances). Since his appointment, Abbado has quietly brought in many new players and now the BPO, previously a bastion of male musicians, has a number of women players in the various sections as well as some Asian musicians. And many of the players are quite young. It's fascinating to watch members of the BPO as they respond to Abbado's knowing baton and the camera work gives us ample opportunity to do this.

The Rome concert hall is superb acoustically and the rich sounds of the Berlin Orchestra have been magnificently captured. Strings are rich and sonorous, brass brilliant, tympani impactful. Paul Smaczny produced this project, Bob Coles directed and both have done a superb job. Camera work is exemplary, always where it should be. For symphonies 3, 5 and 7 there is a multi-angle feature with two camera angles identified as "Concert Camera" and "Conductor Camera," which you can access with the "angle" button on your DVD remote.

The mighty Ninth was not recorded in Rome but in the Orchestra's regular home, Berlin's Philharmonie, in August 2002. For this the Orchestra was normal size and the DVD was produced by Isabel Iturriagagoitia, again directed by Bob Coles. Ms. Iturriagagoitia should be hired by DGG and EMI to produce all recordings of the BPO; this is the finest sound I've ever heard from the Philharmonie, which always has been a problematic hall for recording. What is heard here is richer and more natural that EMI's surround sound for Simon Rattle's Adès/Mahler DVD (see REVIEW). The surround sound on this new recording is everything is should be, the only quibble is that the entrance of baritone Eike Wilm Schulte in the final movement is overly prominent. The performance is electric, again with brisk tempi. The four soloists could not be bettered, the two choirs are fine, and the performances well deserves the extended ovation at the conclusion. Interesting to note that for the Rome Beethoven performances members of the orchestra were dressed in regular concert "uniform," black and white—but for the Ninth, on their own home ground, they are rather casually dressed with a variety of rather garish neckties! Well, why not?

The DVD containing symphonies 3 and 9 aso offers a 26 minute bonus of Abbado discussing Beethoven. All in all, this is a class production, essential in any orchestral DVD collection, quite superior in every way to Daniel Barenboim's TDK DVD audio set with the Berlin State Orchestra.

R.E.B. (February 2004)