Herbert von Karajan

Karajan: The Legendary Decca Recordings, Vol. 4

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While these recordings are likely to be for Karajan fans only, they are quite interesting and even challenging. Both the 1960 recording of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony and the 1965 recording of Dvorák's Eighth Symphony here were performed not with the Austrian conductor's usual orchestra, the Berliner Philharmoniker, but with the Wiener Philharmoniker, and the results, while not exactly revelatory, are still fascinating in comparison with his work in Berlin. For one thing, Karajan is more relaxed with the Viennese musicians, and more willing to give them some rein in terms of interpretation. Thus, his Beethoven here sounds more voluptuous than his contemporaneous Berlin reading, while his Dvorák sounds more expansive and lyrical than anything he was doing in Berlin at the time. For another, Karajan seems less like he is micro-managing the performers, and while the details are all in place, the soloists have more freedom, resulting in especially colorful playing from the woodwinds in the Adagio from Dvorák's Eighth. These qualities may somewhat discomfort Karajan fans who exalt his "Grand Auteur" control over his performers, leading them to question whether he was a more inspired conductor with the Berlin or the Viennese orchestra. But for those listeners whose primary interest is simply the quality of the performance, these recordings will be entirely enjoyable, whatever their provenance. Decca's early-'60s stereo sound is rich, deep, warm, and detailed.

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