Herbert von Karajan: The Legend

Christian Ferras / Herbert von Karajan

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Herbert von Karajan: The Legend Review

by James Leonard

Though at the end of his career he made video recordings for Sony and throughout his career he made occasional recordings for Decca, the late Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan made the vast majority of his recordings for either Deutsche Grammophon or EMI. In honor of the centenary of the conductor's birth in 2008, both companies issued numerous sets of his work for their respective labels. EMI, for example, released this two-disc set called Karajan The Legend, a collection of orchestral favorites recorded with the Berliner Philharmoniker in the '70s and '80s. Most of the repertoire here consists of single-movement works under 10 minutes' duration and every performance is superbly polished and supremely refined. Karajan was, of course, one of the great conductors of the second half of the twentieth century, and even in these smaller, lighter works, it's easy to understand why. The combination of smooth lines, polished phrasing, sculpted balances, powerful rhythms, and an unerring sense of drama makes these performances instantly recognizable as Karajan's and no one else's. With the superlative playing of the Berlin orchestra and the opulent recordings of the English label, this set presents a portrait in snapshots of the Austrian conductor at the first peak of his powers.

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