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Claudio Abbado: Beethoven - Symphonies 1-9

40 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

In February 2001 the Berlin Philharmonic and Claudio Abbado were guests at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome with all of Beethoven's symphonies. Their success was overwhelming: ther were standing ovations after each performance and the critics spoke of seminal moments in the history of music. The video recordings of this event are now available in an exclusive box set, including a special multi-angle feature: the DVDs offer sequences from the 'conductor camera' and show the maestro from his musicians' perspective.


Abbado's studio recordings of the Beethoven symphonies, from 2000, were intriguing readings that didn't quite capture the music's scope. Later that year Abbado was diagnosed with cancer, and the brush with mortality seemed to deepen his partnership with the Berlin Philharmonic. These 4 DVDs capture live performances from 2001 that unite the Philharmonic's polished sound with insights from the period instrument movement. Everything here bristles with an intensity that eluded the studio versions, especially in the "Eroica,'' Fifth, and Seventh symphonies. Some Bostonians will be reminded of a gripping and emotional all-Beethoven concert at Symphony Hall by these same forces just weeks after 9/11. -- Boston Globe, David Weininger, January 2010

These recordings were apparently derived from the same concerts that produced a box set of the symphonies issued only last year by DG; the Ninth was recorded in concert a year earlier at the same time as the sessions which produced the recording included in the DG box issued in 2000 (Eike Wilm Schulte replaces Thomas Quasthoff). For those who own either box, these DVDs are self-recommending. Other listeners may rest assured that there are many reasons to acquire this set.

Abbado has been the most successful of contemporary conductors of Beethoven symphony cycles at blending period and modern orchestra performance practices. Where Barenboim is the staunch traditionalist, unafraid to appear to be reactionary in his single-mindedness, Haitink is the centrist, as ever, and Rattle is the pragmatist, picking and choosing (and not always successfully, in the final analysis), Abbado brings to the richness of the modern ensemble the brisk tempos and fresh-sounding spirit of the period-instrument movement.

In the first two symphonies, for example, one can now see that the Berlin strings have been reduced to 8-8-6-4-3 proportions, and the winds and trumpets are in pairs, yet there is no loss of fullness or impact in the sound (PCM, Dolby, and DTS 5.1 are available); instrumental detailing and transparency are exceptional. The orchestra is augmented appropriately as the cycle progresses, obtaining more heft but with no resultant loss of immediacy or agility. In general, these performances are more expansive, particularly in the slower movements, when compared to those in the original DG set. Yet, they are also more emphatic, more sharply etched, representing Abbado's continuing efforts to approach the music afresh, and they never fail to enhance his already extremely convincing interpretations.

Abbado's "Eroica" is one of the finest on disc, and the video provides the visual accompaniment that enhances the power transmitted through the audio performance. This is one of the recordings--there is one for each of the four DVDs--with a multi-angle feature, allowing the viewer to utilize the "Conductor Camera" focused exclusively on Abbado; watching him is to experience an individual possessed by--and in possession of--the spirit of the music, intent on communicating that spirit to his players. The Marcia funebre is a perfect example of the strength of Abbado's vision: paced halfway between Gardiner's briskly flowing tempo and Barenboim's truly funereal one, this is music of grim determination and sweep, never dragging but never breathless: Beethoven in excelsis.

One aspect of the videos not available to the auditor of CDs is to note the rotation of personnel from symphony to symphony; this admirably democratic practice affords one the chance to marvel at the uniform excellence of this ensemble. Surely one of the pleasures of these DVDs is to watch as well as listen to this superb orchestra.

The bonus is 26 minutes of Abbado's observations on Beethoven's music, delivered in Italian with subtitles. The maestro is clearly pleased with the work of his orchestra: "We conducted a give and take. A conversation about Beethoven. We breathed in unison in creating these symphonies." And on reducing the size of the orchestra for these concerts: "This also helps the musicians to hear each other play . . . all Berlin Philharmonic members are chamber musicians. Teaming up with them was an ideal opportunity." He compares the omission of repeats to the amputation of a limb, and stresses the importance of fidelity to Beethoven's metronome marks. One observation might serve as Abbado's creed: "I believe one fact is crucial: works like Beethoven's symphonies are boundless masterpieces. You can always find something new in them, something to increase your knowledge of the score, to discover new facets. Throughout my career I found it logical to constantly seek something new."

Perhaps the most poignant observation I can make is to compare the conductor of the Ninth Symphony, recorded almost a year before the others, with his appearance in the later concerts. Abbado had suffered a life-threatening illness (stomach cancer), and the physical toll is all too obvious; it is a tribute both to the resilience of Abbado's own spirit and to the life-giving qualities of great music that these concerts are such a triumphant success. -- Fanfare, Christopher Abbot, December 21, 2009

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Beethoven, Berlin Philharmonic, Abbado
  • Directors: Coles
  • Format: Multiple Formats, AC-3, Box set, Classical, Color, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (DTS 5.1), English (PCM Stereo)
  • Subtitles: English, German, French, Italian, Spanish
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 4
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: EuroArts
  • DVD Release Date: March 31, 2009
  • Run Time: 413 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #82,988 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

64 of 64 people found the following review helpful By J Scott Morrison HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 10, 2009
Format: DVD
In 2001, during the month of February, the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Claudio Abbado, were in residence at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome to play all nine of the Beethoven symphonies. The first eight symphonies were recorded for television by the renowned music film producer Paul Smaczny and directed for television by Bob Coles. The 9th had already been recorded in Berlin the year before with a distinguished cast of singers -- Karita Mattila, Violeta Urmana, Thomas Moser, and Eike Wim Schulte, along with the Swedish Radio Choir and the legendary Eric Ericson Chamber Choir -- and it is that performance that is included here. These performances have been released on four single DVDs previously, but this compilation box set of four discs is now available from Euroarts for an amazingly low price, much lower than than if you bought the single discs. You can read other customer reviews of the single issues here: Beethoven - Symphonies 1, 6, and 8 / Claudio Abbado, Berlin Philharmonic, Beethoven - Symphonies 2 and 5 / Claudio Abbado, Berlin Philharmonic, Beethoven - Symphonies 3 and 9 / Abbado, Mattila, Urmana, Moser, Schulte, Berlin Philharmonic, and Beethoven - Symphonies 4 and 7 / Claudio Abbado, Berlin Philharmonic. I have not reviewed the single issues but will not linger here to offer a review of each disc.Read more ›
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful By DWAinLA on April 17, 2009
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
I will defer to Mr Morrison's previous review posted here for more details. This is an amazing deal for a complete Beethoven symphony cycle on DVD - $30 for a 4 DVD set! Great conductor/orchestra/audio recording and nice 16:9 widescreen, for those with newer TVs. A great aquisition for a new or discriminating collector - I am glad to own it.

But just a heads-up. This is a very different Beethoven and Berlin Philharmonic from the Karajan era. I mean almost a polar opposite extreme. Abbado has gotten into the whole newer performance practice of "fast and light" versus "slow and weighty". I am not judging here, just pointing it out. You will see/hear smaller orchestras, wooden flutes and lighter dynamics - more akin to Gardiner than Karajan. The whole thing is a little "nicer" than the Beethoven I am used to - but the trade-off is an incredible attention to detail and subtleties of dynamics.

The great thing about Beethoven is that it can really work with different approaches. So I recommend this set highly - but just know that it is only one approach to this essential repertoire. (Bernstein with the Vienna Phil is a good alternate)Bernstein: Beethoven Symphonies Nos. 2, 6 & 7 or for the "complete opposite" I mentioned earlier - Karajan Beethoven - The Symphonies Boxset / Herbert von Karajan, Gundula Janowitz, Christa Ludwig, Jess Thomas, Walter Berry, Berlin Philharmoniker
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By I. Giles TOP 500 REVIEWER on July 9, 2012
Format: DVD
Please note that this review is the result of comparing the new Blu-ray set with the previous DVD set issued earlier. This review has therefore been completely re-written with that in mind and has replaced the earlier review which has now been deleted.
The new review:

Abbado has recorded this set of symphonies several times and this is his last set recorded in 2000-2001. It represents a considerable modification of his previous interpretations and this series reflects his thinking in the light of recent research into period performing practice. The set of performances is centred around the Del Mar edition which is the latest thinking on the subject and is based on Beethoven's final markings. It is generally thought to be Abbado's finest whole set.

As mentioned in the introductory paragraph above, Abbado uses the new score prepared by Jonathan Del Mar which incorporates `the very latest Beethoven research and represents a valuable supplement to the experience gained by Abbado over many years' (booklet quote). Although Abbado does not go as far as using authentic period styled instruments, he nevertheless often uses much reduced orchestral sizes, even in the Eroica, and avoids part doubling in the wind.

The speeds are generally fleeter without losing necessary gravitas in the slow movements. Speeds are kept constant and avoid the Romantic period type of fluctuations to be found in the recent set of Thielemann performances for example. The same can be said of phrasing. Textures are leaner but not acerbic as in some early examples of early instrument performance. Timpani are usually struck with semi-hard sticks which could be said to be a fair compromise.
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45 of 52 people found the following review helpful By D. DEGEORGE VINE VOICE on June 2, 2009
Format: DVD
This set of all nine Beethoven symphonies provides a great deal of pleasure for a remarkably modest price. The added excitement of witnessing a live performance visually while enjoying the benefit of superb sound is what makes this a special journey through the Beethoven symphonies for me.

Not one of the performances will become my favorite; and given the biases we build up over time, including the fact that we tend to become attached to the first performance of a given work that really moves us, this is not a surprising result, nor one that should particularly dissuade the potential buyer. I do have to register a small amount of disappointment, however, because Abbado is one of my favorite conductors; and I was hoping for a few more revelatory moments than I encountered.

The collaboration of one of the world's best conductors and similarly superlative orchestras has produced performances that are at a very high musical level, containing much beauty and not a little virtuosity. I believe that Abbado has carefully considered and honed every phrase of the music, bringing to bear many years of experience and finely tuned sensibility; in addition, he has updated his interpretations to benefit from corrected editions of the scores and has also incorporated a style that is more in keeping with current performance trends, such as hewing more closely to Beethoven's tempo markings and generally eschewing any Romantic excesses. While all these things give us much to admire and recommend these interpretations as almost definitive, I found them to be just a little too much on the "safe" side to excite me if I remove the visual element.
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Claudio Abbado: Beethoven - Symphonies 1-9
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