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Beethoven: Symphonies 7, 8 & 9 [Thielemann/Wiener Phil.] Blu-ray Review


  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
  • Resolution: 1080i/60
  • Audio Codec: PCM 2.0 (48kHz/24-bit), DTS-HD Master Audio (96kHz/24-bit)
  • Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Italian, Korean, Chinese, Japanese
  • Region: ABC (Region-Free)
  • Rating: Not Rated
  • Discs: 1
  • Studio: C Major
  • Blu-ray Release Date: March 29, 2011
  • List Price: $39.99

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Purchase Beethoven: Symphonies 7, 8 & 9 on Blu-ray at CD Universe

Shop for more Blu-ray titles at Amazon.com

Overall
[Rating:5/5]
The Performance
[Rating:5/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:4.5/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:4.5/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:5/5]

Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures

(Screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG  thus are meant as a general representation of the content and do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)

The Performance

[Rating:5/5]

The final three Beethoven symphonies, all previously available on DVD, see their first Blu-ray release with this set. As I have previously seen and heard the Christian Thielemann and Wiener Philharmoniker  collaboration, I was anticipating yet another outstanding installment in this series. To let the cat out of the bag, I was not disappointed.  If there is a better ensemble playing Beethoven today, I have not heard it. This was Beethoven’s original venue for his symphonies, the players have this music in their DNA, and it definitely shows.

Symphony No. 7 (A major, Op.92), completed in 1812, has sometimes been called the “Dance Symphony,” not because it contains actual dances but rather because of the rhythmic pulses which run throughout. This is no better displayed than in the syncopated section of the second movement allegretto. Symphony No. 8 (F Major, Op.93) was written almost concurrently with its predecessor but in a throw-back style that recalls the classicism of Mozart or Haydn, sporting a third movement in the style of a minuet.  Symphony No. 9 (F Minor, Op. 125) also known as the “Choral Symphony,” broke entirely new ground in the symphonic literature by incorporating a sung final movement featuring a chorus and four soloists, in this case, Annette Desch (soprano), Mihoko Fujimara (contralto), Piotr Beczala (tenor), and  Georg Zeppenfeld (bass) who reprise Schiller’s “Ode to Joy.”  These recordings, dating back to 2009 (Symphonies Seven and  Eight) and 2010 (Symphony Nine), are carried off at a world class level that justifiably brought audiences to their feet.

Video Quality

[Rating:4.5/5]

The performances benefit from being in one of the most videogenic venues in the world, the Gold Room of the Musikverein in Vienna. The directors, Agnes Meth and Michael Beyer present a balanced view of conductor, orchestra, and soloists, giving a good impression of the performance and its venue. The videography is generally sharp and focused with an appropriate mix of panoramas, angles and  close ups. It would be literally impossible to watch the Ninth Symphony and not leave with a sense of exhilaration and being part of the moment.

Audio Quality

[Rating:4.5/5]

As with the other performances in this series, the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack gives an excellent sense of space. Surround effects are minimal and the audience is very well behaved. The orchestral presentation is up front and well spread across the front speakers. The absence of a subwoofer channel aids the bass clarity significantly and should be considered in more orchestral recordings. The soloists and chorus in the 9th Symphony are clearly recorded. Of the vocal quartet, the star is Polish tenor Beczala whose clarion voice soars over the proceedings. The others singers are at least adequate colleagues, with contralto Fujimara being somewhat on the lightweight side both literally and figuratively. Maestro Thielemann understands the chamber music elements in all of these pieces and through careful modulation allows the individual inner orchestral voices to be heard most distinctly. His touch adds intimacy to these otherwise larger than life works and brings listeners closer to hearing Beethoven’s original  intentions.

Supplemental Materials

[Rating:5/5]

There is nearly three hours of informative commentary provided by maestro Thielemann and Joachim Kaiser, a world-renowned music authority. For those less familiar with this music, it is illuminating to hear their take on these Beethoven masterpieces.  I only wish more classical Blu-rays would provide this kind of extra material.

The Definitive Word

Overall:

[Rating:5/5]

This Blu-ray disc concludes a truly magnificent set of Beethoven symphonies. The musicianship is top notch, as expected from Christian Thielemann and the Wiener Philharmoniker. It is fascinating to watch these performances in succession and track the continued development of Beethoven as composer. Five hours of music and commentary might seem like a lot but when you are dealing with music making of this quality and commentary this insightful, it is a small investment of your life. Beethoven’s symphonies are the bread and butter of a lot of European orchestras, but the Wiener Philharmoniker and Christian Thielemann perform at a caviar level. The soloists in the Choral Symphony may not be the best in the world, but their contribution to this work is commendable and, ultimately, pleasurable. The competition for video performances of the late Beethoven symphonies is stiff and includes legends like von Karajan and Bernstein, While there will always be debate about which cycle is the best, taken as a whole, this final trilogy from the greatest symphonic composer who ever lived is one to treasure and watch repeatedly, enhanced by added visual and sonic values of Blu-ray technology.

Additional Screen Captures

[amazon-product]B0047QRXZ8[/amazon-product]

Purchase Beethoven: Symphonies 7, 8 & 9 on Blu-ray at CD Universe

Shop for more Blu-ray titles at Amazon.com

Overall
[Rating:5/5]
The Performance
[Rating:5/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:4.5/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:4.5/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:5/5]

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