This deluxe Deutsch Grammophon package released in honor of the 100th anniversary of Herbert von Karajan's birth includes a CD, a DVD, and a book full of essays and photographs, plus a selected discography. For the Karajan collector, this set will be mandatory. The CD contains the first release of a 1966 recording of Bach's concerto for two violins played by Christian Ferras and Michel Schwalbé and the first general compact disc release of a 1960 recording of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 5, along with the 1963 recording of Brahms' Fourth Symphony (generally considered by critics and listeners to be the best of the Austrian conductor's recordings of the work). The companion DVD provides a cross section of Karajan's work in a wide variety of genres: two opera excerpts, one concerto, one choral work, and three purely orchestral works including a complete Beethoven's Fifth from 1973 directed by the conductor. And the book provides both stimulating essays on the conductor and fascinating photographs of the conductor with numerous classical stars.
For the non-Karajan collector, this set will provide an appropriate introduction into the conductor's work. Performed mostly with the Berliner Philharmoniker (the Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala does the honors in the two excerpts from Pagliacci) and featuring a host of front-rank soloists like Jon Vickers, Thomas Stewart, Brigitte Fassbaender, and Peter Schreier, Karajan is in his element here. And the performances are Karajan at his best. The textures are clear yet smooth, the colors bright yet burnished, the lines strong yet flexible, the sonorities warm yet cool, and the interpretations dedicated above all to the highest possible degree of tonal beauty. Though not for everyone -- for some listeners, the conductor's insistence on opulence and elegance over content and meaning may run counter to their notions of musical integrity and emotional sincerity -- Karajan's art is fairly represented here. As befits the conductor, both the aural and the visual production values are exquisite.