Dallas Morning News & Andante.com
, March 2004
"This DVD of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, recorded in concert at the Philharmonic, is a stunner. The "Eroica," captured in concert at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome, is less electric but still very fine.
Abbado stays close to Beethoven's oft-ignored metronome markings, which gives a nervous edge to the Ninth's first movement - and elegant dovetailing of tempos in the choral finale. He wisely "corrects" what are almost certainly wrong note values on markings for the trio of the scherzo and the marchlike tenor solo in the finale; both move along quite briskly. The Andante has a gracious flow.
Abbado really gets it all right. The music's tensile strength is balanced by natural "give" when needed, brazen climaxes by delicate introspections, rhetorical flair by eloquent shaping (especially by the winds). An understanding of historic performance practices forms the basis for a splendidly "operatic" modern interpretation.
It's also blessed with top-notch soloists - Karita Mattila, Violeta Urmana, Thomas Moser and Eike Wilm Schulte - and the Swedish choruses sing with uncanny focus and refinement.
The shock of the "Eroica" is how gaunt Abbado looks less than a year after the Ninth - after surgery for stomach cancer. Maybe that gives an added poignancy to the Funeral March, which seems viscerally to go through every stage of grief. But, again, sticking to the metronome markings makes for quite a vital performance. In both symphonies one notices how physically the musicians - a strikingly young bunch - are involved in the music, and you can hear it in their playing.
In both performances the video editor certainly likes switching cameras a lot. But both video and audio are amazingly high-resolution, with plenty of hall sound in the mix. EuroArts has also issued the rest of the Abbado-Berlin Beethoven cycle on DVDs. Grade: A"