Friday, 19 November 2010

Great Recordings by the Berlin Philharmonic


I was asked by The Straits Times to come up with a list of top recordings by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra which will be performing in Singapore next week. Here was my shortlist, and much as I would have liked to include others, I was limited to 3 recordings by Sir Simon Rattle and 3 from his predecessors. This list (obviously highly contentious) was published in the 4 November edition of Life! (as a sidebow to Akshita Nanda's main article).

It will be a cliché to restate that the Berlin Philharmonic and great audio recordings were made for each other. Under Herbert von Karajan, its chief conductor from 1955 to 1989, the orchestra became the world’s leading recording orchestra. Its recordings on the Deutsche Grammophon label were synonymous with instrumental perfection, crystal clarity and interpretive authority, reproduced on state-of-the-art sound equipment, bringing the concert hall experience into the living room. Karajan’s recorded legacy with the Berliner Philharmoniker was continued by his successors Claudio Abbado (also on Deutsche Grammophon) and Sir Simon Rattle (on EMI Records).

3 Top Recordings from BPO & Sir Simon Rattle
(All on EMI Classics)

SCHOENBERG Gurrelieder (2001)

The Songs of Gurre, Arnold Schoenberg’s fin de siècle early symphonic choral masterpiece, calls for over 400 performers. This recording achieves the near perfect fusion of orchestral opulence and vocal magnificence, marshalled with unerring sense of drama and pacing.

MAHLER Symphony No.9 (2007)

Mahler’s swansong symphony, full of nostalgia and bittersweet regret, receives a moving performance that piques, stirs and ultimately overwhelms the senses.

BRAHMS Four Symphonies (2008)

As common as recorded Brahms symphony cycles are, this ranks at the summit. Recorded in concert, the spontaneity of a live event is never sacrificed in the quest for note-perfection. It retails at budget-price too.

3 Top Recordings from BPO & other conductors
(All on Deutsche Grammophon)

BEETHOVEN Symphony Cycle (Karajan, 1961-62)

Many collectors consider this to be Karajan’s finest of three recorded cycles with his beloved orchestra. Beethoven’s brio and fist-shaking angst are indelibly captured, unhindered by the slower speeds adopted in later cycles.


The music of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern still represents to some an insurmountable hurdle, the triumph of musical objectivity over emotions and feelings. These recordings uncannily fuse unimpeachable intellect with aural beauty.

MAHLER Symphony No.6 (Abbado, 2005)

The choice pick from a crop that that reinforces the Berlin Philharmonic as the ultimate Mahler orchestra. The inexorable drive and sheer vehemence of tragic fate has seldom been better portrayed in this earth-shaking reading.

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