Herbert von Karajan / Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

Schubert: Symphonies Nos. 8 & 9

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Herbert von Karajan admitted to having difficulties in approaching the music of Franz Schubert, and this is most apparent in his 1968 recording with the Berlin Philharmonic of the Symphony No. 9 in C major, "The Great." Listeners who have even a slight acquaintance with this noble symphony will notice right away how insensitively Karajan takes the introductory Andante, and how he rushes through the Allegro ma non troppo with a driven pace that seems better suited to a Beethoven symphony than to Schubert's expansive masterpiece. Things aren't any better in the Andante con moto, where Karajan continues his mad dash without slowing down to savor the poignant melodies or exquisite harmonies. Having lost the grandeur of the first movement and the pathos of the second, Karajan goes on to gracelessly stomp through the Scherzo without appreciating either its humor or the lyricism of the Trio, and whips the Finale into a froth with a prestissimo tempo that is practically in perpetual motion. The only justification for buying this CD would be to hear the 1964 recording of Schubert's Symphony No. 8 in B minor, "Unfinished," where Karajan is not so tightly wound up and the Berlin Philharmonic plays with more relaxed tempos and a warmly expressive tone. The reproduction is generally fine in both recordings, but considering the ruthlessness of the interpretation in "The Great," there's not much reason to listen for its sound quality.

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