Herbert von Karajan / Alexis Weissenberg

Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4; Triple Concerto

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Half of this disc is as good as it gets while the other half, if not perhaps altogether unendurable, is still very close to unbearable. Herbert von Karajan was the kind of conductor who didn't play well with others. While there were some marvelous collaborations in his career -- one thinks of Anna Tomowa-Sintow and Anne-Sophie Mutter -- most of the time Karajan shied away from collaborations. True, he conducted a lot of opera, but it was almost always Karajan's show, and the singers were just appearing in it. Half of this disc has Karajan's failed collaboration with pianist Alexis Weissenberg in Beethoven's Fourth Concerto, while the other half has the all-but-definitive collaboration with pianist Sviatoslav Richter, violinist David Oistrakh, and cellist Mstislav Rostropovich in Beethoven's Triple Concerto. Weissenberg was the steely fingered pianist with the impeccable technique who seems to have appealed to Karajan the perfectionist as well as Karajan the voluptuary, and their Fourth Concerto is perfectly formed and ideally polished and totally refined, but it is also cold and lifeless and dead. On the other hand, Richter, Oistrakh, and Rostropovich were the three greatest Russian musicians of the twentieth century and consummate musicians who brought out the supreme orchestral artist in Karajan, and their Triple Concerto is perfectly formed and ideally polished and totally refined -- but it is also warm and living and full of fun. EMI's sound is lovely but balanced in favor of the orchestra in the Fourth Concerto and lovely and balanced in favor of the piano in the Triple Concerto.

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