Brahms: Symphony No. 2; Schubert: Symphony No. 8 'Unfinished'

Herbert von Karajan

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Brahms: Symphony No. 2; Schubert: Symphony No. 8 'Unfinished' Review

by Blair Sanderson

Bearing in mind that this EMI Encore reissue consists of analog recordings dating from 1955 and that the reproduction is indistinct and limited in frequency range, potential buyers may consider other options for better-sounding recordings of Johannes Brahms' Symphony No. 2 in D major and Franz Schubert's Symphony No. 8 in B minor, "Unfinished." Beyond the less than ideal audio, Herbert von Karajan doesn't bring anything fresh or distinctive to his interpretations: his Brahms reading is joyless and uninspired, and his direction seems slack and perfunctory; though his Schubert has the requisite pathos and lyricism, it is lacking in tension and drama, as if the contractually bound conductor merely went through the motions. The Philharmonia Orchestra's playing is adequate and reasonably accurate (except for one or two wrong notes and some slightly ragged entrances in both works), but their level of commitment is low, which makes the music feel expressionless and bland. Furthermore, the ensemble's presence is quite variable, at times loud and close-up and at others recessed and muted, probably a result of indecisive mixing. Taken altogether, then, these problems make this CD a weak offering, even for the budget conscious; though it may be serviceable for study purposes, this disc is not an essential item for any serious collector.

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