BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 9 in d – Anna Tomowa-Sintow, sop./ Agnes Baltsa, contralto/ Peter Schreier, tenor/ Jose van Dam, bass/Vienna Singverein/ Berlin Philharmonic Orch./ Herbert von Karajan (1977) – DGG 479 1083 Pure Audio Blu-ray stereo-only (PCM 2.0, DTS MA HD 2.0, Dolby TrueHD, 24-bit/96 kHz), 67:14 [Distr. by Universal] ***1/2:
I am referring everyone who reads these new DGG Blu-ray Pure Audio reviews to my review of the Kleiber Beethoven Symphonies 5 & 7 reissue for comments and details on this series in general.
This is the 1977 fourth recording of Beethoven’s Ninth which Karajan recorded, the first a mono effort from 1947 with Vienna, the second from the fifties using the Philharmonia Orchestra, the third from 1963 with these Berliners, this one, and the last with the Vienna Philharmonic right before his death. The third and fourth efforts have long been argued over by fans as to which is the greatest set ever. To my mind the 1963 wins hands-down, and is comparable with Bernstein’s Vienna DGG set. But there is something special about the 1963—lean, muscular, anxious, and brilliantly executed. Yet I do see why some prefer the 1977, more relaxed and free-flowing, though the Ninth is certainly not as well sung, though it is sung well. And the rest of the symphonies are not as competitive as the 1963.
To complicate matters, this 1977 recording has also been released on SACD, and in surround sound to boot! So why in the world is DGG letting this out yet again with no significant boost in quality to the consumer? The only thing I can figure is that they are trying to penetrate the Blu-ray market, and take advantage perhaps of those music lovers not as astute as to what is going on as the people that read this website. I don’t have the 1977 SACD, but I do have the entire set from 1963 on SACD, and I compared the two. Besides being a superior performance as far as I am concerned, the 1963 two-channel SACD issue leaves this two-channel Blu-ray in the dust. Many will still argue the merits of each of these recordings; but you can’t argue the comparison of sound between them, the Blu-ray even sounding a little cramped when contrasted with the 1963. I don’t know for sure but can’t help but believe that the surround sound 1977 SACD has to be better than this two-channel effort; and guess what? It’s still around for only $10. You heard me right—but act quickly, as I have a feeling DGG we be pulling it fast if it hasn’t happened already. I applaud the company’s new-found commitment to high-quality audio; but for goodness sake, give us the real thing! If you are going to take the trouble to repackage this classic, do it the way you did before; at least offer it in surround sound before calling it “High Fidelity Pure Audio”—that’s not the whole story. [And it’s the wrong story – “high fidelity” on an LP was once a giveaway that it was mono as opposed to stereo…Ed.]