Herbert von Karajan / Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

Mozart: Symphonies Nos. 40 & 41 "Jupiter"; Oboe Concerto

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Beautiful? Yes. Meaningful? No. In these early-'70s recordings of Mozart's last two symphonies plus his Oboe Concerto, Herbert von Karajan conducts with all the passionate intensity of a plumber repairing a broken toilet and the Berlin Philharmonic plays with all the ardent dedication of line workers screwing bolts into nuts. Of course, the performances are smoothly polished and totally professional; how could it be otherwise with Karajan and the Berlin, Germany's top conductor and top orchestra? But of course the performances are also absolutely empty and utterly irrelevant. Where are the anxiety and terror driving the G minor Symphony? Where are the majesty and eloquence driving the C major Symphony? Where are the grace and elegance driving the Oboe Concerto? Where are the humanity and the sublimity of Mozart? Not here. There are dozens of better performances of all these works -- try Furtwängler's, Klemperer's, Walter's, Beecham's, or Szell's, for starters -- but by all means, skip these pointless performances.

By the early '70s, EMI seems to have lost the knack of recording the Berlin Philharmonic. Instead of a warm, clear, and open acoustic, EMI seems to have placed the Berlin in a vacant building, set up a few random microphones, and then left the performers to their own devices. The result is a cold, dim, and gray acoustic. The remastering here brings them a bit more into focus, but it can't do much about the awful original sound.

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