Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra / Herbert von Karajan

Brahms: The Complete Symphonies [1978]

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This is the Berlin Philharmonic? This big, bloated band of blasted brass, bleating winds, and scraggly strings is the Berlin Philharmonic? And this is Herbert von Karajan? This sloppy, self-indulgent, and sentimental bag of lackadaisical rhythms, slip-shod ensemble, and glutinous balances is Karajan? Say it isn't so! Karajan had already recorded the Brahms symphonies in the early '60s with the Berlin Philharmonic and a splendid recording it was: polished and passionate interpretations with precise and powerful playing from the Berlin. But these digital recordings from the late-'70s and '80s are not only smudged and blurred copies of the earlier performances, they are just this side of disaster. In addition to being poorly played and poorly conducted, they are all poorly interpreted. Karajan's First is simply loud, his Second is simply simple, his Third is simply schmaltzy, and his Fourth is deadly dull. There are dozens of better recordings of the Brahms symphonies: Abbado, Barbirolli, Böhm, Boult, Furtwängler, Giulini, Haitink, Kempe, Klemperer, Kubelik, Masur, Mravinsky, Stokowski, Szell, Weingartner...the list goes on and on. If you must have Karajan, try the early-'60s cycle and stay away from this sloppy, bloated mess.

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