Beethoven: Symphony No. 5; Symphony No. 7

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
WORKS: Symphony No. 5; Symphony No. 7
PERFORMER: Berlin PO/Herbert von Karajan
CATALOGUE NO: 471 735-2 Reissue (1984, 1985)
Why does this feel like a guilty confession? There may have been elements of the showman, even the TV evangelist, about Karajan, but he could also be perceptive and very compelling. In both of these performances there’s a remarkable grasp of musical structure combined with a contained but still scalp-tingling energy. In the end, the theatricality of the finale of the Fifth Symphony was a barrier for me, but there’s still a sense that this is the outcome of a journey. And the last movement of the Seventh just keeps on getting better until the final thrilling race for home. Still, go to Carlos Kleiber’s version of the same coupling and you’ll find what Karajan lacks – a sense of danger, a feeling of a great conductor in awe of the music rather than magisterially controlling it. Stephen Johnson