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Herbert von Karajan: The First Recordings [Box Set]
Ludwig van Beethoven, Richard [Classical] Wagner, Johannes Brahms
Herbert von Karajan: The First Recordings [Box Set]
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (23) - Disc #1

The Polydor Recordings from 1938 to 1943: Karajan's Fascinating First Essays in the Classical Repertoire from Mozart (Symphony No. 40) to Richard Strauss (Don Juan), with Beethoven (Symphony No. 7) , Tchaikovsky (Pathétiqu...  more »


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The Polydor Recordings from 1938 to 1943: Karajan's Fascinating First Essays in the Classical Repertoire from Mozart (Symphony No. 40) to Richard Strauss (Don Juan), with Beethoven (Symphony No. 7) , Tchaikovsky (Pathétique Symphony), Dvorak (New World Symphony) and a Beautiful CD of Opera Préludes. These Recordings were Painstakingly Restored in the 1980s and Previously Released in the Dokumente Series in 1988. CD Booklet, with Great New Article by Karajan Biographer Richard Osborne, Includes the Full Series of Dynamic Early Karajan Photos by Siegfried Lauterwasser.

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CD Reviews

The young Karajan in excellent remastered sound
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 11/14/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This 6-CD box set, a bargain reissue of a full-priced Kokumente series that DG released in 1988, will make some people angry. There is no getting around the fact that recordings made between 1938 and 1943 are Nazi-era products made while the conductor was a party member. For anyone who cannot stomach that fact, there's no great musical legacy that would be lost by skipping the whole batch. Various labels have put out each of these performances form the 78 era over and over, usually in awful sound. Here we get them in amazingly good sound, free of all surface noise, warm and full in range, and with rock-solid pitch.

So there are no revelations, simply a good deal of pleasure if you are an admirer of a great musician despite his flaws. (It's not anyone's place to defend Karajan personally. He went too far to disguise his Nazi membership, yet on the other hand he was de-Nazified by the Allies after the war. That amounts to a finding that he didn't actively persecute anyone; thus Karajan joins millions of other Austrians and Germans who went along with the regime.)

No one seems to show much interest in this set here at Amazon, so I will be brief, with a minimum of historical comment.

CD 1: The Beethoven Seventh and Leonore Over. #3 are efficient, fairly nondescript readings, definitely on the modernist rather than traditionalist side. The Berlin Staatskapelle orchestra (which I assume is taken from the Staatskapelle Opera that Karajan began conducting in the late Thirites) is no great shakes. On the second half othe disc, however, devoted to the Act i and III preludes to Die Meistersinger, there is a sudden leap in energy--these re quick, light, thoroughly modern performances.

CD 2: The Brahms First from 1943 with the Concertgebouw is fairly well recorded, although there isns't enough bass to bring out the timpani, a glaring defect in the opening movement. Karajan, who was to show himself a great Brahmsian soon after the war with a classic German Requiem on EMI, here already shows mastery and control over the orchestra. The same goes for the Strauss Don Juan and Dance of the Seven Veils with the same orchestra from the same sessions--they're as lush and vibrant as one would expect from this eminent Straussian. If only one could escape the knowledge that Holland was an occupied country at the time.

CD 3: This disc begins with a 1940 reading of the Dvorak New World Sym. with the Berlin Phil., a notable incursion by Karajan on to Furtwangler's turf. The two were never reconciled, and the older maestro couldn't even speak the younger's name, referring to him simply as K. The performance is caught in pathcy but listenable sound, but Karajan was never sympathetic in Dvorak, and this reading is brisk and impersonal despite his usual finesse and control. The fast finale is exciting but superficial. The disc is filed out with three Johann Strauss items from 1940-42, a Fledermaus Over, Artist's Life Waltz, and Emperor Waltz. It would be hard to imagine them done better; Karajan's Austrain heritage transports the Berliners to Vienna for a moment. One can imagine the sentimental tears these recordings evoked in a climate of suffering an horror. Such are the ironies of history.

CD 4: Karajan went to Turin in Oct. 1942 to record three Mozart symphonies--#35, #40, and #41--with the radio orchestra there. The sound is very listenable, and the readings themselves are lively and joyous, among the best I've heard from him (I am not a great fan of Karajan's Mozart conducting outside the opera pit). He gets precise playing from the Italians and would keep up his association with the RAI well into the Fifties. At the time Beecham was probably the pre-eminent conductor of Mozart's symphonies on 78s; these performances seem more modern and just as vivacious as his.

CD 5: Furtwangler must have hated the fact that Karajan was allowed to record the Tchaikovsky Pathetqiue with his Berliners, and within a year of Furtangler's own famous recording. As it happens, Karajan's 1939 reading, which is not in the best sound, is dimmer than the older conductor's in other ways. The booklet annotator dismisses it as straightforward. Certainly the Scherzo is notably quick-silver and beautifully controlled, and the finale is expressive beyond the ordinary. Too bad the sonics aren't good enough to reveal more. Smetana's Moldau, also with the Berliners, fills out the disc, a recording from 1940 in much clearer, more natural sound. The reading itself is vigorous and full of inner life, one of the best things along with the Mozart symphonies.

CD 6: A disc devoted to overtures and preludes, seven in all. All the selections are chestnuts, ranging from The Magic Flute Over. from 1938 through Freischutz, Semiramide, to Verdi preludes from La Traviata and the Forza del destino overture from Turin. Karajan was a master at all these works, so expect everything to be sparkling and vivacious, with recordings that vary from quite listenable to thoroughly enjoyable.

In the end, one can't escape the political overtones of these recordings, but we have to live with the fact that not just Karajan but clemsn Krauss, Karl Bohm, Hans Knappertsbusch, Hans Hotter, Fischer-Dieskau, and Schwarzkopf, among countless others, made their way with varying degrees of wrong decisions during the same period. Their combined musical legacy is too great to shun.