"Unfortunately there are not too many premium orchestra versions of the Carl Nielsen symphonic cycle. To hear the Berlin Philharmonic, with Von Karajan steering the sleek beast, perform the breathtaking 4th is a revelation. Von Karajan does take some liberties with the score, going for the 'slowing down' theatrics option near the ending of the first movement, but the power and precision of the orchestra more than makes up for any transgressions."
Carl Nielsen goes to heaven (i.e., Berlin)
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 01/02/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I can count a host of major conductors who have led Sibelius's music, but few who have championed Nielsen's. His magnificent Fourth Sym. "The Inextinguishable" gets the star treatment from Karajan and the Berlin Phil. Who knows why HvK chose to favor this single work, but then, why did he only conduct the Shostakovich Tenth? It would have been nice to hear something besides the much-reissued Sibelius Tapiola that fills the rest of this fairly stingy CD (58 min.)
That said, this is the kind of performance that would make Nielsen rise from the grave. Karajan is fully committed to showing the Fourth off as a major work, and even though there are some slack stretches that lack inspiration, you'd never know it here. Melodies swell and bloom, connecting passages are alert and frisky, the furious timpani duel in the finale forbids any thought of armistice. DG's sonics are especially good as well, which is one advantage that the Karajan recording has over Bernstein's more idiomatic but rather grittty account on Sony. A must for anyone who loves Nielsen.
As an afterthought, I wonder where the other major conductors are in Nielsen? Stokowski, Bernstein, Karajan, Barbirolli, the young Simon Rattle, and Esa-Pekka Salonen make up my favored list, and of these, only Bernstein and Salonen have recorded more than one or two works. To me Herbert Blomstedt isn't a major conductor despite his (rather lackluster) tenure in Dresden, and although Eugene Ormandy is a major ocnductor, I don't care for him. But both dipped into Nielsen as well, especially the former in is beautifully recorded but straight-faced readings from San Francisco on Decca."
The Greatest Conductor of the 20th Century
Richard Zencker | 06/10/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Most orchestral musicians have a comment to make about Karajan. He has some of the best recordings ever made and some of the worst. This is one of the best. Incidently he is still the most recorded musicians of all time. Even if only 10% of his recordings are any good they still outnumber anyone else. He is the maestro of all time."
Good, but perhaps not definitive
Richard Zencker | Scottsdale, AZ USA | 07/21/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I've listened to these performances plenty of times over the past decade(s) with considerable pleasure, but they still suffer from the "glossiness" that plagues so much of Karajan's recorded legacy. I think both recordings were my first exposure to either piece, and they certainly will impress. The brass certainly does get to blow hard enough in the finale of the Nielsen, but the kettledrum duel is a little muddy. Karajan recorded the Sibelius in the 60s also and perhaps I prefer that older version.
The Nielsen was among the earliest digital recordings and even though I found the sound impressive at the time it doesn't seem so today. Nielsen's Fourth is, I think, his last symphony in the late Romantic mould and Karajan goes for the gut (taking some liberties with the score in the process). This approach wouldn't work with the last two Nielsen symphonies, even though they are arguably greater works.
The Sibelius can be thought of as an atmospheric depiction of a northern forest. Almost everything in the piece grows organically out of the motives in the opening measure. While this is not unusual for Sibelius, this is probably the longest symphonic movement he composed using such seemingly limited materials. It is one of the last pieces he completed; his last thirty years were marked by increasing isolation and silence.
These are good performances and recordings of important repertoire, even if the disc is a little shy on running time and there are now many other excellent recordings of these works; so this is perhaps recommended primarily for those who are already fans of Karajan's Berlin Philharmonic recordings. "