Sunday, January 31, 2016

Herbert von Karajan — Ludwig van Beethoven — Symphonies 1st & 2nd — 1977


   Symphonic works by Ludwig van Beethoven were the major position in Karajan’s repertoire. Beethoven’s style was always a perfect choice to show Maestro’s abilities to connect deeply emotional, dramatic matters with formal discipline. After success achieved with completes of symphonies recorded with Philharmonia Orchestra in 1950’s and with Berliner Philharmoniker in early 1960’s Karajan was perceived as a perfect performer of music by Beethoven. Recording his third complete of nine symphonies decade later, Karajan was way ahead in his career than any time before. He was famous as one of most charismatic conductors in the history of music, the orchestra in its best shape was working in the newly built house, performing and recording in new concert hall with outstanding acoustics. This moment was conceptualized as triple pentagon emblem symbolizing the unity: space-music-man in West Berlin Philharmonic.
   In second half of 1970’s Deutsche Grammophone released new complete of recordings of Beethoven’s nine symphonies conducted by Herbert von Karajan. Covers of new edition were series of photographic variations on numbers of included symphonies. Almost in parallel to this series, the same label had republished earlier complete with color cover photos of Karajan in various positions. This can be seen as an act of bravery considering artistic quality of first edition, but in fact there was no undue risk. As it was easy to predict, in second DGG edition Herbert von Karajan once again demonstrated his ability to create powerful constructions of symphonic works, reaching the heights of emotional and intellectual sophistication.

Karajan — Beethoven — Symphonies 1st & 2nd (1977)

   Comparing to strong, in some parts even rough performance of earlier decade, these renditions of first two symphonies have gentler and a bit subtler sound. Tempos in all movements are fast and jokes are easy to understand, what makes this vision less complicated than performances of 1963 album. For the same reasons 1977 rendition can be considered as well as more classical. This unity of formal context and well established ideas reveal entire work as emotional narration which is still classical, but already struggling with some new points. Minuet in Symphony C-Major Op. 21 sounds with demonic fatality and still is light merging sincerity with joker’s determination and cheerfulness. Dramatic effect in the beginning of Finale occurs to be next joke, and even more joyous pageant for the light-hearted closing of this early symphony being in a fast first step to break the classical style. 
   And the next Beethoven’s step toward the new century music was his second Symphony D-Major Op. 36. This time Beethoven makes his first change in formal construction of classical symphony — the third movement is signed as Scherzo, although it has more minuet features than Minuet in 1st Symphony. While Minuet in Symphony C-Major is in fact a scherzo, here we have opposite idea: considering rhythmic and melodic characteristics third part of 2nd Symphony is as much minuet as Minuet in 1st Symphony was a scherzo. It looks like Beethoven is hesitating between keeping old formal rules and expressing his individual experiences and feelings. Finale is just eruption of joy, closing this dramatic work with pleasant feelings. Just like it was expression of the seventies’ zeitgeist – dramatic but still full of hope.

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