Herbert von Karajan

The Best of Herbert von Karajan: 20th Century Masters/The Millennium Collection

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The pop music notion of a "greatest hits" or "best of" for a recording artist does not sit well with fans of classical music, who have greater difficulty reducing their favorites to short excerpts of music comparable to pop songs. One would suppose that any reasonable best-of devoted to conductor Herbert von Karajan would have to be a boxed set of many discs, given the large amount of the classical repertoire he recorded for Deutsches Grammophon with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra during his career. But the concept of Universal's 20th Century/The Millennium Collection series is discount-priced single-disc sets, and thus Karajan is reduced to 13 selections in 61 minutes here. Compilation producer Joseph S. Szurly sticks with classical warhorses and music closely associated with Karajan, from Pachelbel's "Canon in D Major" to "The Ride of the Valkyries." Given the exposure much of this music regularly receives in movies and television commercials, it is fair to say that even people who know little or nothing about classical music will hear themes they recognize, even if they don't know what they are. The Karajan admirer probably will note the remarkable absence of anything by Beethoven or Mahler, but then a symphony or two probably would be required, and there wasn't room for that. The performances here possess Karajan's noted qualities: an elegance of musical line, a remarkable sense of dynamics, and an attention to detail. It can only be hoped that the buyer, inspired by the music, seeks out more of it, since there is so much more of Karajan to hear.