Karl Böhm

Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 2, 3 (Eroica), 7

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These days, the late Karl Böhm is not so much forgotten as ignored. Like so many conductors who did their most characteristic work in the stereo era -- one thinks of Walter, Klemperer, Reiner, and Szell as other examples -- Böhm did not transfer well to the digital era. The deluxe editions that have been lavished on such stereo-to-digital-era conductors as Bernstein, Karajan, and Solti have not been proffered to Böhm, whose oeuvre was reissued early in the digital era at bargain prices and not seen in the catalog since.

This is a shame: Böhm was one of the true greats of the stereo era, a consummate musician who knew the scores backwards and forwards, who revered their notes and conveyed their meaning with a rare blend of objectivity and affection. Happily, however, there are live recordings, and thus, though Böhm's recordings of Beethoven's Third Symphony for Deutsche Grammophon are currently available -- neither the Dionysiac 1962 Berliner Philharmoniker recording nor the Olympian 1970 Wiener Philharmoniker recording -- thanks to Audite, his magisterial 1978 Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks is available here along with his 1978 Second and his 1973 Seventh with the same orchestra. In every case, these live recordings are as fine as Böhm's studio recordings, with the same control of line and command of detail, but with perhaps more energy and a heightened sense of occasion. Böhm's Third is truly heroic, a grandly striding performance of tremendous strength and nobility, his Second bigger and more monumental than most, and his Seventh more ecstatically celebratory than any. Though the notion of the unsmiling Böhm leading a heroic or an ecstatic performance beggars the imagination, by all means try these recordings. They'll knock your hat in the creek. Remastered from Bavarian Radio tapes, Audite's sound here rivals the finest stereo of its time.

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