Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
|Johannes Brahms, Arnold Schoenberg, Herbert von Karajan|
Brahms: Symphony No. 1; Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht
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Karajan brings a sweeping magnificence to London
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 09/26/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This fall (2009) Simon Rattle is touring with the Berlin Phil. in programs that combine Brahms and Schoenberg. They make a bracing contrast, although when Karajan had the same idea on tour to London in October, 1988, his choice of works was rich all through -- more like a double dose of clotted cream. This was a fraught event. A French labor action delayed the arrival of the orchestra's instruments, so the starting time was an hour late. Karajan was old, in severe back pain, and no longer on good terms with his orchestra. He wouldn't live another year, and one might expect a kind of valedictory melancholy -- or at least the frailty of old age -- to imbue the music.
Happily, both interpretations are fully alive and vigorous. I'm fairly amazed that BBC Legends didn't snap up this recording, given its historic significance. Forty years before, in the cold, hungry spring of 1948, Karajan had conducted his first concert in London, a city he conquered with the Philharmonia Orch. far more than the Berliners. Critics tend to view the Philharmonia decade, up to 1960, as Karajan's golden period, before his music-making became slick and glib. You'd never know it here. There's enormous strength in Verklarte Nacht as well as the sweeping magnificence of sound that was the specialty of the Berlin strings. This live concert reading is less studied than Karajan's acclaimed studio account on DG and therefore ranks as one of the greatest ever recorded. Even Karajan's worst enemy must grant it the most sumptuous. The recorded sound from Festival Hall is close and rich, a surprise given that venue's dry, shallow acoustic.
Karajan's Brahms First is a known quantity from his three complete cycles on DG, the last in digital sound recorded not that long before this concert, in 1987. (The digital Third and Fourth were recorded the very month of the concert.) Karajan conceived the work in massive terms, and his interpretation didn't change, even down to the timing of individual movements, once he established it. The BBC actually achieves a clearer, sharper sound image than any of the studio accounts (listen to the sharp timpani strokes in the opening bars compared to the mushy, remote DG recordings), and that factor alone may justify buying this new version.
Did the occasion bring out more intensity. There was hardly more to give, since Karajan was already at his most urgent in the Brahms First, but I'd say yes, definitely. Only occasionally do we find Karajan raising the temperature in various pirate recordings taken from concerts, but if this blazing account is any indication, somebody should be scouring the archives of radio stations who caught the Berliners in modern sound. This is Karajan's most overwhelming account that I know of, not in the profound emotional sense that Furtwangler overwhelms us in the Brahms First but more for its sweeping magnificence, the same as in the Schoenberg.
In sum, you may think this is a superfluous recording from a much-recorded maestro leading two familiar works, but there are unique qualities that make it a must-listen."
A spectacular live event with the BPO and Karajan at their b
Ralph Moore | Bishop's Stortford, UK | 10/09/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Previous reviewers have provided justified encomiums for this disc so I shall do little more than endorse their enthusiasm and encourage those in doubt to buy it. Don't be put off by the fact that the sepia cover photo, typical of the rather quaint "Testament" presentation, suggests that this is an elderly, hissy, boxy live recording: it is far from that, being caught in excellent, sharp, well-defined analogue sound which is actually rather better than many a studio version. The timpani in particular are especially vivid, the horns blare out magnificently and the strings soar in the Big Tune in the Brahms First. By all accounts this evening in October 1988 was a special, not to say potentially fraught, event: Karajan was already frail and ill - he resigned as conductor the following April and died in July - and the start of the concert was delayed by an hour as a result of the BPO's instruments being delayed by the French customs - yet nothing could sound more liberated, energised and sheerly inspired than these two performances, both superior to Karajan's studio recordings, superb though they were, too. You have to endure a little mild hacking in certain quiet moments in the Schoenberg but this is more than compensated for by the electricity of the playing. This certainly gives to lie to the old canard that Karajan was invariably superficial and lacklustre in his "declining years"; apparently he barely moved yet the Berlin Philharmonic play like men possessed.
You have here two of the finest showpieces for a great orchestra, conducted by a master, in splendid sound. I disagree with the Santa Fe Listener that Karajan's Brahms wholly eclipses the studio recordings made by Abbado with the same orchestra three years later - I admire and enjoy Abbado's noble vision - I certainly urge all lovers of this, perhaps one of the greatest top half dozen symphonies of all time and certainly my personal favourite, to acquire it. That we have a searing performance of "Verklärte Nacht" to boot is an embarras de richesses beyond imagining."
C. Tutton | Melbourne, Australia | 09/11/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I've heard a lot of recordings of Brahms' 1st Symphony, including the Furtwängler recordings of 27 October, '51 and final movement recording from 23 January, '45, but nothing compares to this.
This is one of those instances where you can stand in your living room or sit in your car while in your head screaming "y-y-y-y-YEAH!" and actually hear that all the members of the orchestra are feeling the same way. This performance achieves that very difficult, nigh on impossible objective of gaining and maintaining immense momentum while making each phrase linger. Already 20 years old, this performance, even coming through a set of speakers really feels in "real-time" - live as live can be. The timpanist, especially in the final movement is so epic, he sounds as if he's standing up and slamming the drums, and one truly wonders what the hell other timpanists are doing in other performances (diffidently patting away with lettuces it seems).
Karajan is intellectually all over this symphony, there are revelations coming through with every couple of seconds. The recording itself from 1988 is analogue and far from the quality of 21st century live recordings (The Big Thatch may not have been pushing the biggest arts budgets through the Commons at the time, so the BBC is without the most superfly equipment). Listening to it, particularly in tuttis, etc, there are problems of balance which result from Karajan's careful delineations in the orchestral voices, and these would obviously not have presented a problem to those in the audience, but the recording technology was too limited to capture these qualities adequately - so the sound range sounds cluttered. Nonetheless these qualities are evident even though they are more implied than audibly explicit in the recording.
This is a most profound and special recording of one of the greatest symphonic works. By all accounts Karajan stood at the podium like death warmed up and through only his piercing "zen-archer" stare directed the show. It represents a great man focussing his all at the end of his time, coupled with a spectacular virtuoso orchestra at the end of an era playing like they really, really mean it.
I love this recording so much."