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Reviews: Beethoven: The Nine Symphonies - Kempe

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Reviews: 2

Review by Joseph Ponessa February 14, 2012 (11 of 14 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
My twelve top Beethoven symphony sets (in chronological order, not order of preference) are:
Furtwängler SACD (the simultaneous CD release is not bad),
Karajan SACD (from the 1960s),
Kempe SACD,
Masur SACD (in multi-channel),
Bernstein LP/Laserdisc (not CD or SACD),
Gielen DVD,
Barenboim DVDA (superior to Abbado's DVDA cycle from a year later),
Abbado DVD (now on CD too),
Asahina SHM-SACD (in stereo),
Järvi SACD/LP (a bit better than the DVD from a year later),
Gazarian SACD,
Thielemann BD.
This new Kempe set goes head-to-head with Masur, both being from the 1970s, both recorded for quad LP release. Esoteric have done a marvelous job of remastering, and perhaps the decision to release in stereo only has helped them put the dots and dashes of the disc format to best use. This ties for the best all-around historic analogue remastered cycle. The Kempe set has robust sound and authentic-sounding strings, but the Masur has more ear-candy with the multi-channel sound and more hall resonance (at the Dresdner Kulturpalast).
Reviewers at the time of the original Kempe LP release were unimpressed, but competition was fierce at that time. People who had conducted Beethoven for many decades were releasing cycles as the culmination of their life's work, whereas since the 1980s people have rushed to get a cycle into the hopper at early stages of their careers.
For many years I have owned the Ninth Symphony from Kempe's set, on a CD that I picked up in Austria in 1990. Comparing that with this new release is like night and day. There is so much more music there now, and musicality too. Kempe takes his time with Beethoven (the Ninth is 68 minutes, faster than Furtwängler but slower than Toscanini or many recent conductors). He also takes the first, third and fourth repeats in the Vivace of the Ninth, extending the movement to eleven minutes. This spaciousness benefits as the SACD reveals some of the hall ambience that was missing on the CD (from the Bürgerbräu in Munich). For people who want their Beethoven on modern instruments, by one of the best of the Beethoven orchestras, conducted by one of the best Beethoven conductors, in the best sound available today, this set rises towards the head of the pack. Although only a thousand copies were pressed, there seem to be a few left here and there. The Beethoven collector will want one of these, trust me. The general listener will find an embarrassment of riches at much lower cost elsewhere--in addition to the above, the SACD sets by Kegel, Haitink, Herreweghe, Vänskä, van Zweden, the RPO (various conductors) and the soon-to-be-released Vriend and Wand, and too many CD sets even to begin mentioning.

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Review by ThierryN July 7, 2012 (5 of 9 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
I own the following versions of LVB symphonies:
Abbado ( CD + 9 in HD)
Barenboim (only 9 in HD)
Kleiber (only 5&7 in HD)
Tilson Thomas (only 5 in HD)

From the music persoective, I place this Kempe interpretation in my top 3.

You get together the "raw material becoming music" of Beethoven, the breath, the structure and architecture in support, poetry when relevant, a wonderful detailed balance between instruments even when music is dense and poweful. Tempi seem just right because you never ask yourself about them or never feel the need to compare with others. You are just "taken" by the performance, moved, shaken, thrown on walls, taken back like a piece of wood on an ocean. You are taken by the music, you want it or not. And the feeling, even I listened to all the above versions for many decades,, that the music is just being built in front of your eyes and ears.

From the sound perspective, oh my G... Esoteric made a wonderful work.

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