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Bruckner: Symphonies 8 & 9 [DVD Video]

4.2 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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(Jun 24, 2008)
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Special Features

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Product Details

  • Format: Multiple Formats, Classical, Import, PAL
  • Language: English
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    NR
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Sony/Bmg Int'l
  • DVD Release Date: June 24, 2008
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00122M2HE
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #50,252 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

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Look at any book of reviewed or recommended CDs and you will find the Karajan audio recordings of Bruckner symphonies 8 and 9 if not the top recommendations then very high up on the list. These 1985-88 SONY recordings are not available on other DVD discs and are not the same as the DGG issues of VPO recordings of lower technical quality from 1978-79. This symphony 9 was recorded in a live concert in the Philharmonie, Berlin, in November 1985. The real gem of this DVD disc is the recording of symphony 8, which is identical with the famous DGG CD made in the Grosser Musikvereinsaal, Vienna, in November 1988. Karajan made at least four studio recordings of this symphony between 1950 and 1988. In addition there exist several recordings from live concerts. None of these are a match to this Karajan's last performance of the Mount Everest of symphonies.

I was bowled over by the interpretation as well as the recording quality of the original DGG audio recording of symphony 8 issued in 1989, right after Karajan's death. Many authorities rate this performance not only as the greatest recording of a Bruckner symphony but as one of the best symphony recordings ever. Therefore it was extremely interesting to see this performance in video. The DVD fulfils most expectations. In this series of Karajan re-issues the engineers have made re-recordings of the sound where the original recording was played through loud speakers in the same venue to make a new surround sound digital recording (with normal PCM Stereo and Dolby Digital 5.0 sound formats) to better capture the acoustics of the hall. They almost succeeded. This DVD has a better sound and picture quality than the box of Strauss tone poems in the same series and leaves very little to be desired.
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This DVD release should be of interest for a few reasons. First, please note that there are two Bruckner symphonies here, numbers 8 and 9. These are the same performances previously released by Sony on video. Both the 8th and 9th have appeared on VHS and Laser Disk. However, as far as I know, only the 8th has previously appeared on DVD. These recordings were made very late in Karajan's life. The next thing to note is that the audio has been reworked. My understanding is that Sony took the audio tracks and played them in the hall where the recording was originally made and re-recorded them to better capture the hall's ambience and provide a surround sound audio track. Finally, and not least importantly, the video is PAL and not NTSC and will not play on many US DVD players. Note that DG has issued a DVD set of the same symphonies with Karajan in NTSC. The performances on either Sony or DG are wonderful.
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There is no shortage of DVDs of the mature Bruckner symphonies (Nos 4 - 9). Indeed one can almost say it has become an industry in its own right. If one is anxious to get hold of his 8th, one can choose from Welser-Most, Mehta, Nagano, Giulini, Boulez, Wand, Celibidache, Takasha Asahina, and Karajan with the Vienna Philharmonic. That adds up to conductors from no fewer than 8 different nations, and it doesn't even take into account the multiple couplings of the same performance that are available: in the present case, you can have your Karajan and his Bruckner 8th alone, combined with the 9th as here, or the 8th and 9th together with the Te Deum in a 2-disc explosion of sound. To my taste, neither of these symphonies is as attractive as Nos 4 - 7. They have passages that I find dull, and especially in the 9th, some that almost verge on the atonal, but there are others that show off the composer's ability to create a tempest of sound, and yet others that reveal his deeply spiritual character. The most positive feature about this DVD is the quality of both sound and performance. I have not heard a finer interpretation of either symphony, and the beautiful playing of both orchestras (VPO in the 8th and BPO in the 9th) is superbly captured. Visually, it is much less satisfactory. If there is an audience, it is unseen and unheard, so that the sense of excitement created by a truly live performance is entirely lacking. The camera spends about half its time focusing upon the ageing Karajan whose eyes are firmly fixed on the floor. Rarely do we get a sense of direct communication with his players. Yet there is no denying the power of the music, and the detailed precision and emphasis he apparently conjures with a flick of his wrist or a vibration of his fingers.Read more ›
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Rabbi Akiva is best known for his declaration that "the entire world was never so worthy as on the day on which the Song of Songs was given to Israel." With justice, one could say the same thing about the Bruckner Eighth whose Kerygma is just as sacred.

Karajan strongly identified with the Bruckner Eighth throughtout his life and every one of them offers instruction: the stupendous 1944 torso with its finale in stereo; the 1957 recording with the Berlin Philharmonic [overseen by Walter Legge, no less]; the 1976 re-make with the Berliners; the concert staged in St Florians itself in the late 1970s - and finally, the recording / video made in 1988 when the end was in sight.

As far as I can tell, this DVD is near identical to the CD offering on DG. Whatever avenue you chose, it is a mandatory acquisition for any self-respecting Brucknerian. Herbie was clearly on his last legs in every way when he made this recording - even so, defiant of twilight, he poured the last of his lifeblood into this performance (the Bruckner Seventh that followed is not in the same league). As Richard Strauss noted, following scripture: thus is the body dead but the spirit is life.

The Ninth, recorded in November 1985 with the Berlin Philharmonic, displaces neither the '66 nor the '76 performances, both of which are on CD. For whatever reason, Karajan was out of sorts on the night - marginally; the coda to the first movement, for instance, lacks the hushness that makes the two predecessors so memorable; in recompense, the Schezro is more diabolical than Satan himself. The finale is a much more of a valediction the Lied von der Erde - here, Karajan was back to his best.

All in all, this DVD deserves to be in your collection. As per most of the Karajan films on Sony, the direction is unimaginative but who cares when the music-making bestrides this world and the next.
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