It’s hard to exaggerate when speaking about weightiness of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The whole series of nine symphonies was revolutionary achievement as well as great accomplishment of late classical and pre-romantic era. And every symphony in the series is unique on its own. Nevertheless this is Symphony C Minor op. 67 which was the exceptional and most shaking one from the very beginning. It marks top moment in Beethoven’s career. Developed from simple 4-note motif, build upon mathematically perfect process, Fifth Symphony invokes deepest motions of human consciousness. Maybe this is the reason for such favorable reception of this work. But maybe the direct cause is Fifth’s flexibility and receptivity, even for extreme interpreting ideas. This could explain why it has highlighted position in repertoire of every symphonic orchestra and conductor.
Herbert von Karajan recorded Beethoven’s Fifth many times. The first internationally recognized recording was 1948 album with Wiener Philharmoniker. But there is no doubt the best results Herbert von Karajan had achieved with Berliner Philharmoniker, the orchestra he was resident conductor for the 35 years. For the first time, the nine Beethoven’s symphonies Karajan recorded with Berliner Philharmoniker in 1961 and 1962 and it was probably most esteemed rendition of the complete set in next two decades. In 1976-1977 he again seized up with symphonies, this time in new technology of multidimensional sound. Third time he recorded Beethoven’s symphonies in eighties, on a series of digitally mastered soundtracks from video production.
Every edition of the Beethoven’s set was sensational and became a milestone in growing fame of Karajan and his orchestra and every edition has it’s own place in recording history. The 1977 recording of the Fifth Symphony is brilliant example of conductor’s creative intensity. Karajan averts traditional interpreting pattern. Against solemn and sometimes gloomy interpretations of introduction with fate knocking motif, he opens this symphony with warm passion like he was going to say there’s no fate but our will. He is building Allegro con brio like he was first who knew the meaning of con brio indication. Basing on strong contrasts first movement is enough lively and stormy to create narrative dominant and to open in recapitulation the whole space we can see as affirmation of composers conviction about the idea of indeterminate human freedom.
After such exposure, second movement begins in elegiac mood which is clearly turned against the first part disposition. Nostalgia alters into determined, self-convicted remembrance of first episode, connected by the same motif of four notes with accent on fourth. And in the end of Andante con moto it carries the solemn certainty of ideas catch in previous movement. Third movement is brilliant continuation of narrative premises. Dramatically determined, rhythmic motif and contrasting fugato with joyous, almost rustic chase of strings are two episodes marking base for scherzo developing into final Allegro. Which balanced relief and triumphant fanfare. It is really hard to find rendition with such mighty strings. String quintet sound is huge and this makes Karajan’s Fifth even more powerful and alive than many other interpretations.