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Greg Hettmansberger
Madison Magazine, December 2011

BEETHOVEN, L. van: Symphonies Nos. 4, 5 and 6 (with documentaries) (Vienna Philharmonic, Thielemann) (NTSC) 704908
BEETHOVEN, L. van: Symphonies Nos. 4, 5 and 6 (with documentaries) (Vienna Philharmonic, Thielemann) (Blu-ray, HD) 705004

total package that makes these performances treasurable. The camera work is…as beautiful as the playing, with multiple angles that renew one’s interest as well as follow pretty closely the instrumental highlights as each symphony unfolds. Each of the first two volumes also includes the major overtures of Beethoven.

…the feature that puts this set over the top is that each symphony receives a one-hour documentary which consists of fascinating discussions between Thielemann and Joachim Kaiser…Needless to say, the highlights among all of Thielemann’s performances are too numerous to list here…the camera work is exemplary and, in this set, equally adept at revealing Barenboim the pianist and conductor. © 2011 Madison Magazine Read complete review

Paul Pelkonen
Superconductor, November 2011

BEETHOVEN, L. van: Symphonies Nos. 1, 2 and 3 (with documentaries) (Vienna Philharmonic, Thielemann) (NTSC) 704708
BEETHOVEN, L. van: Symphonies Nos. 4, 5 and 6 (with documentaries) (Vienna Philharmonic, Thielemann) (NTSC) 704908
BEETHOVEN, L. van: Symphonies Nos. 7, 8 and 9 (with documentaries) (Vienna Philharmonic, Thielemann) (NTSC) 705108

Superconductor 2011 Gift Guide: Beethoven for the Holidays

Hi-def high-quality Beethoven from Christian Thielemann, the German conductor whose whole career has been a determined throwback to the great kapellmeisters of the past: Hans Richter and Arthur Nikisch. These are visual records of the Vienna Philharmonic playing these great works in the legendary Musikverein. © 2011 Superconductor

James A. Altena
Fanfare, September 2011

BEETHOVEN, L. van: Symphonies Nos. 4, 5 and 6 (with documentaries) (Vienna Philharmonic, Thielemann) (NTSC) 704908
BEETHOVEN, L. van: Symphonies Nos. 4, 5 and 6 (with documentaries) (Vienna Philharmonic, Thielemann) (Blu-ray, HD) 705004

…this is an uneven result for a laudably conceived production; one would have to see the other two volumes to decide whether or not the entire series is a worthwhile investment despite the shortcomings…College professors will likely find the discussions to be of some value for their courses, if used judiciously.

Stephen Habington
La Scena Musicale, March 2011

Big bad Ludwig Van is back with a vengeance, courtesy of maestro Thielemann and the VPO. This set is the first of three triple DVD (or single Blu-ray) issues, with the entire cycle due out in March. The third disc is devoted to the conductor in conversation with Prof Joachim Kaiser with an hour allocated to each symphony. The interviews feature out takes from the concert footage, rehearsal clips, shots of other conductors doing the same thing, and largely abstract discussion blended with gestures of high mutual regard. Two words that never seem to come up are: ‘Bärenreiter Edition’. The documentaries may be of interest to some but remain inessential to appreciating the music.

The crowded concert platform for Symphony No 4 is a strong indicator that Thielemann has dusted off the Breitkopf und Härtel edition of the score. Aside from the substantial body of strings, the horns and trumpets have been doubled. For Thielemann, Beethoven means honouring the German performing tradition. The booklet mentions Daniel Barenboim and Mariss Jansons as fellow sympathizers (to whom might be added Kurt Masur, Sir Colin Davis, Bernhard Haitink and Stanislaw Skrowaczewski). The conductor’s decision here is gloriously seconded by the orchestra. The VPO sound much happier and more secure than in their 2003 multi-stylistic audio cycle with Sir Simon Rattle for EMI. The performances are magnificent. This is powerfully articulated, though sensitive Beethoven with earthy good humour in the right places. The Fourth is beautifully shaped, the Fifth conveys a whiff of revolutionary sulphur, and the “Pastoral” rivals Karl Böhm’s legendary 1969 account with this same orchestra (DG/Australian Eloquence).

Audio quality is as outstanding as the performances. The surround sound option is in 5.0—subwoofers have been silenced ‘for artistic reasons.’ With completion of the cycle imminent, the Thielemann/ VPO ‘Beethoven 9’ project will be something to be reckoned with.

Anthony Kershaw
Audiophilia, February 2011

Christian Thielemann has a bit of a reputation as an eccentric. Some of these eccentricities found their way into performances in his early years. DGG and the Philharmonia gave him a shot recording Schumann and Beethoven and the performances made a bit of a splash. Thielemann’s reputation has grown considerably since then (and his performances more mainstream and scrupulous). He was recently appointed Music Director of the Dresden Staatskapelle and is Musical ‘Advisor’ to the Bayreuth Festival.

The subject of this review is one volume from the new Beethoven Symphony cycle (more on the way to Audiophilia). The DVD set includes Symphonies 4, 5 and 6 and a DVD of three hour long documentaries, one for each symphony (a nice addition to the DVD). The orchestra is the Vienna Philharmonic and the setting is the magnificent Musikverein. The following paragraphs will focus on performance and sound. Video (not Blu-ray—they’re on their way) is HD in what looks 720P. It’s stunning. Camera shots are bog standard with some dodgy solo framing. Yet, the director knows the scores well.

If this set is anything to judge, I’m glad the other volumes will arrive soon. All three performances are superb. They are incredibly musical, dynamic, and are infused with Thielemann’s clear direction and musical values. His core competencies includes a direct technique (young conductors—and old—can learn plenty from him), a fine ear for orchestral balance (the Vienna Phil an obvious help in this regard; his performances with lesser orchestras like the Munich Philharmonic suggest that he is a mere mortal), and interesting ideas—thinking anew rather than new ideas for their own sake.

That said, each of these tenets place this new set (so far) into the pantheon of master sets, including the 1963 Karajan (Thielemann was his assistant for a while) and the Klemperer Philharmonia stereo set. At first, I thought some of the new ideas fussy. Tempo shifts in the 5th Symphony last movement intro and repeat, and again in the slow movement of the 5th, with some woodwind solos possibly a little too languorous. After many hearings, I was wrong. What I took for fussy, was merely scrupulous. And this incredible scrutiny is taken in stride by the magnificent soloists of the Wiener Philharmoniker.

The orchestra is a perfect foil for Thielemann’s musical journeys. The players are with him all the way. I cannot single anyone out. They are all magnificent. Take some time and listen to the woodwind solos in Scene by the Brook from the Pastoral. The flawless phrasing, the exquisite instrument timbres are among the best in my memory. Tiny little changes that make huge musical differences are infused throughout. As example, listen to spectacular flutist Walter Auer and his golden Sankyo flute in the coda of the first movement of the Pastoral. The little flute solo of an F major scale flourish ends with a slight hesitation of the final high F. It is so slight, it’s almost imperceptible, but it just works. And when you get old Beethoven with new musical ideas that work, it’s magic. There are innumerable evidences of these musical gems in all three symphonies.

You can listen to the audio only, which is fine by me. The recording is equally spectacular. The Golden Hall of the Musikverein certainly glows. Visually, though, seeing the well-heeled Viennese enjoying themselves is a pleasure and watching Thielemann is, as I mentioned, an education. Either way, Beethoven lovers are in for a treat. If you think you know these seminal works, think again. Thielemann and the Vienna Phil will entertain, educate, and move you like few others. What more could you ask?

Robert Benson, January 2011

The enterprising C Major label has a huge Beethoven project recorded over two years called “The Beethoven Cycle of the 21st Century.” The first volume contains symphonies 4, 5, and 6. There are two disks for the symphonies, and one for the bonus. Forget about period instruments—these are bold readings played on the finest contemporary instruments. The bonus disk contains an extensive (almost an hour) discussion of each symphony illustrated with excerpts from each, with conductor Thielemann and distinguished musicologist/critic Joachim Kaiser. The fascinating commentary includes Thielemann discussing and comparing his interpretive ideas with those of Bernstein, Karajan and Furtwängler. Heard on Blu-Ray, the sound is stunning. The engineers have captured the glorious playing of the Vienna Philharmonic to perfection, and video is of equally high caliber. We have the expected array of close ups for important solos, but at least we are spared many scenes of the audience in the packed Musikverein, which has never before looked so beautiful. Thielemann has changed seating of the orchestra. The eight double basses are a single row along the center back, looking, and sounding, very impressive. This is a terrific project in every way. The cost for regular DVD and Blu Ray is the same. It does seem odd that Symphony No. 4 has a disk all to itself—it would seem producers could have been able to combine the symphonies more efficiently. I look forward to the remainder of this superb series.

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