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.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Herbert von Karajan — Ludwig van Beethoven — Symphonies 1st & 2nd — 1984


   Herbert von Karajan recorded Beethoven’s symphonies many times. Among dozens of studio and live recordings of performances with various orchestras, most important part of Karajan’s discography were cycles of nine symphonies he recorded first with Philharmonia Orchestra and three complete sets he recorded with Berliner Philharmoniker. First cycle has been published in 1955 by Columbia. Next three cycles were recorded for Deutsche Grammophone Gesellschaft — first in early 1960’s, second in late 1970’s and third in 1980’s. And these editions may be the most capacious vision of symphonic experience for those decades. Every rendition has its own qualities and fanatic proponents, wherein majority choices are generally earlier Karajan interpretations. In fact the volume of later editions was smaller, so the circulation of last performance was not as significant as it was before. Nonetheless this edition is extremely interesting one. It can be considered even as an artistic testament of the great conductor.
   The natural solution in Karajan’s DGG editions is setting first two of Beethoven’s symphonies on one LP. In 1970 these symphonies were reissued in changed configuration, but the main idea of keeping original order was retained in all editions. In fact the first two are among shortest of Beethoven’s symphonies and both are connected by style and orchestral demands. Strings, double winds, two trumpets and two horns plus timpani mark this instrumentation in classical mainstream. Although many stylistic elements show that music of first two Beethoven’s symphonies is clearly classical, most interesting qualities are elements differentiating young composer’s work from the conventional classical style. 

Karajan — Beethoven — 1st & 2nd Symphonies (1984)

   The First Symphony, composed in late 18th century and premiered in 1801 is rather a rebellious commentary than one more classical construction. Starting with harmonic passage introducing the key as a kind of musical joke, composer developing his construction always with a grain of salt, and in third movement Minuet everything become clear. It can be only a comic effect to imagine this very fast Allegro molto e vivace dance with minuet steps and figures. Keeping the name Minuet, Beethoven wrote his first scherzo in 1st Symphony. And since this movement is based entirely on harmonic scheme taken from opening Allegro con brio, there’s no doubt this is a caricature of these shaping principles. Here young Beethoven shows qualifications and sense of humor being manifestation of his independence.
   In Karajan’s 1984 recording Beethoven’s first two symphonies had been rendered in slightly slower tempos to enhance the articulation and sound perspective. The sound is unbelievably precise and thus the musical space is wide and clear, Beethoven’s music tissue in this recording looks like it was shown in aerial view. This occurred to be a great idea. Showing multitude of nuances, focusing his attention on various possible readings, Karajan gives listener a chance to find some new perspective and an unknown comprehension in decoding Beethoven’s music. After powerful Allegro con brio in 2nd Symphony, second movement  Larghetto spreads between mysticism and determination. Orchestra sounds clear and warm, sound space is as wide as it is possible. This deeply inspired performance opens whole series of Karajan’s 1984 recordings of Beethoven’s complete symphonies. Each record of this complete is worth highest rating, so this time there’s no need to count the stars.