Herbert Von Karajan

Beethoven Symphony No. 9

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Details At A Glance

Category Music Biography - Cast
Programme Notes
Year Released 1990
Running Time 69:25 minutes
RSDL/Flipper No/No
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 1,2,3,4,5,6 Director Herbert Von Karajan 
Sony Classical 
Sony Music
Starring Herbert Von Karajan
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Wiener Singverein
Case Amaray
RPI $34.95 Music Ludwig Von Beethoven 

Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English (Linear PCM 2.0 48/16, 1536 Kb/s)
English (Dolby Digital 5.1, 448 Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 1.33:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking No
Subtitles English
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    And so we continue with the legacy of Herbert Von Karajan on video. Produced for laserdisc in 1990 by Telemondial, this DVD presents another all-digital recording of Ludwig Van Beethoven, this time his glorious Symphony No. 9, otherwise known as the Choral Symphony. This effort was recorded in September 1983 using the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted, of course, by Herbert Von Karajan.

    There is something very special about Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 that sets it apart from most pieces of classical music. Over the years there have been some utterly superb recordings of this great work, and to be fair Herbert Von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra have been responsible for some of them. Indeed, their 1977 recording together still rates very highly in The Penguin Guide To Compact Discs, as does their earlier 1962 recording. To be fair though, their last recording made around the same time as this video is not amongst the very best around. My personal choices in this work are an earlier recording by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra made in 1959 under the baton of Andre Cluytens, or the recording made by Leonard Bernstein on Christmas Day, 1989 (just after the fall of The Berlin Wall) with combined forces from the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Dresden Staatskapelle. What makes them so special? Well, this is one symphony that really needs to be felt, and both of those recordings really exude passion like few others. And that is the single greatest failing of this version from Herbert Von Karajan - it may be very well-played and all the notes are there, but it simply lacks the passion necessary to make the work really sing. After all, Schiller's Ode To Joy is a passionate work whose words should strike at the very core of any person's heart.

    Still, the likelihood of someone having a video of the 1959 Andre Cluyten performance is nil, and I doubt that we will see the Leonard Bernstein version on DVD real soon (it has been available on VHS), so this is a more than acceptable substitute. Not absolute top drawer stuff by any stretch of the imagination, but at least a better-than-average effort that will please all but the most fastidious.

Transfer Quality


     Being a later release from the Sony range, this transfer is a PAL effort that tries its best to improve upon the source material, but generally fails to succeed. The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and is not 16x9 enhanced.

     The image is reasonably sharp, but suffers somewhat from the usual problems we would expect from a seventeen year video transfer. The depth of field here is not great and so most of the image is out of focus, unless it is the focal point of the image. Consequently, we get to see a lot of nice sharp images of Herbert Von Karajan against a sadly diffuse background and a marginally lacking foreground. When the viewing field is opened up a little, the images tend to be a lot better with much better overall focus and detail. Detail, however, is nothing exceptional irrespective of where the focus lies, whilst shadow detail is at best acceptable. There appears to be something of a problem with grain in the transfer which mitigates against the clarity of the overall transfer. There does not appear to be any significant problems with low level noise in the transfer.

    There is not much of a palette of colours offered here, since everyone wears a black suit with a white shirt and a dark tie. Still, the blacks have a nice depth to them even though they tend to be a little too deep compared to the slightly anaemic skin tones on offer. The instruments certainly do not display much in the way of colour tones either. I suppose it conveys the overall feel of the musicians well enough, but a little relief would have been nice. There is something of a problem with flare in the transfer as a result of the lighting reflecting off instruments and at times this is not handled too well. Oversaturation of colour is definitely not an issue here, nor is there any hint of colour bleed.

    There are no problems with MPEG artefacts in the transfer. Film-to-video artefacts are confined to some minor aliasing problems, mainly on the string instruments. Film artefacts were absent from the transfer.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-to-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There are two soundtracks on this DVD, the first being a Linear PCM 2.0 48kHz 16 bit soundtrack and the other being a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. They are described as English, even though the only vocals are in the final movement of the symphony and they are very definitely in German. I listened to both soundtracks.

    There did not seem to be any problems with audio sync in the transfer, and when the vocals did come in the fourth movement they were clear and easy to understand - my German is certainly improving as a result of listening to this symphony for so many years!

    Whichever soundtrack you choose to listen to, just remember to crank it up! Not that we have any audio demonstrations here, but rather this music deserves to sing and it does that best with the audio level cranked up. There is certainly nothing much wrong with this well-engineered Dolby Digital soundtrack, with the bass channel being thankfully restrained. I must admit to dreading the thought of thunderous drums, but was pleasantly surprised by how well they were handled in the overall sound mix. Surround channel usage could perhaps have been a little better, but the overall sound is quite immersive and is quite reminiscent of the multi-directional sound that one hears at a live concert. This is perhaps a less analytical digital soundtrack than some I have heard, with the result that the various instruments present a nice overall soundscape without any instruments being especially digitally isolated in the mix. The Linear PCM 2.0 soundtrack is not in the same league and sounds just like a compact disc recording. Of admirable quality, even though well overshadowed by the Dolby Digital soundtrack.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



    A pretty boring looking effort but it at least does its job.

Biography-Herbert Von Karajan

    A decent if not especially voluminous effort, stretching to seven pages of text. Given the capacity of the DVD format, I would have thought that a more extensive effort would not go astray, nor would a few more photographs of one of the most famous conductors of the twentieth century.

Programme Notes

    Reasonable enough stuff I suppose, but again I cannot help but feel that more could have been done here with both the composer and the composition.

R4 vs R1

    As far as I can determine, the Region 1 and Region 4 versions have identical content, making Region 4 the version of choice owing to PAL formatting.


    Another typical example of the Herbert Von Karajan legacy on home video, this time with one of the truly great symphonies as the centrepiece. Some critics of Herbert Von Karajan make the point that we are not listening to the composer when he conducts, but rather are listening to Herbert Von Karajan telling the composer what to do. That perhaps is a good description of this performance, which whilst perfectly acceptable, simply does not allow the magic of Ludwig von Beethoven to shine through. Still, this remains a fine DVD and one that is well worth looking out for.

    A good video transfer.

    An excellent audio transfer.

    A somewhat underwhelming extras package.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris (have a laugh, check out the bio)
23rd September 2000

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 80cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built in
Amplification Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL