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Thread: Best and Worst Recordings: Karajan

  1. #106
    Senior Member amfortas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brahmsianhorn View Post
    My ranking of conductors we have on record:
    Knappertsbusch?
    Alan

  2. #107
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    Quote Originally Posted by amfortas View Post
    Knappertsbusch?
    Oh wow, I was sure I had included him. I would put him in between two others K's, Kubelik and Kempe.

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    It must be said about Karajan that he was the last great exponent of the German tradition. He brought this tradition into the digital age so that young tykes like me could know what Beethoven is supposed to sound like. For this we owe him an immense amount of gratitude. As Werner Thärichen stated, he was a salesman, and as a result he exposed millions upon millions to classical music, not to mention introducing and popularizing 20th century works.

    Karajan may get some flack from me and others for being a tad overrated as a conductor - he was far from the last word in interpretive genius - but his impact on classical music cannot be overstated. He was a giant in that regard.

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  5. #109
    Senior Member Baron Scarpia's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brahmsianhorn View Post
    It must be said about Karajan that he was the last great exponent of the German tradition. He brought this tradition into the digital age so that young tykes like me could know what Beethoven is supposed to sound like. For this we owe him an immense amount of gratitude. As Werner Thärichen stated, he was a salesman, and as a result he exposed millions upon millions to classical music, not to mention introducing and popularizing 20th century works.

    Karajan may get some flack from me and others for being a tad overrated as a conductor - he was far from the last word in interpretive genius - but his impact on classical music cannot be overstated. He was a giant in that regard.
    I have a different view of him. He had his own approach which was distinct from the tradition he came up in. A great emphasis on achieving a sound in each passage which reflects the nature of the music, as he understood it. In his best recordings his performances can seem to transcend the limitations of the orchestra. As if you are reading the score and imagining the music in your head, in which the limitations of practical instruments vanish. You loose some of the visceral excitement of an orchestral performance, but you can get a more ideal realization of the music.

    In many cases I would not recommend a Karajan performance as the default recording of a piece, but as a very interesting alternative recording.

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    Senior Member MatthewWeflen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Baron Scarpia View Post
    I have a different view of him. He had his own approach which was distinct from the tradition he came up in. A great emphasis on achieving a sound in each passage which reflects the nature of the music, as he understood it. In his best recordings his performances can seem to transcend the limitations of the orchestra. As if you are reading the score and imagining the music in your head, in which the limitations of practical instruments vanish. You loose some of the visceral excitement of an orchestral performance, but you can get a more ideal realization of the music.

    In many cases I would not recommend a Karajan performance as the default recording of a piece, but as a very interesting alternative recording.
    I tend to agree with this take, except for me his recordings are the standard, because of that aforementioned beauty and ideality. There are those who view this approach as sterile and artificial. I view it as reducing the unpredictable elements and getting to a purity of conception. Maybe it's because I'm not an avid musician myself, nor am I a frequent patron at concerts (I take in perhaps 4 or 5 free concerts anually, sitting on the lawn in Millennium Park, and 2 or 3 Chicago Symphony Orchestra concerts, usually in the loge). Anyway, there are definitely recordings here and there that are more spontaneous, and therefore more exciting. But Karajan is the baseline for me, and his versions of certain works are the best.

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    Senior Member MatthewWeflen's Avatar
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    orgel.jpg

    For instance, I just listened to this recording of Saint Saens' Organ symphony. I had not heard it before. I found it to be lively and extremely well produced. Are there better recordings? Maybe. But I feel familiar enough with the piece now to judge other productions of it.

    Karajan is like a really good restaurant. You can expect nearly everything to be prepared well. Sometimes it isn't the most inspired dish around, but occasionally it is.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MatthewWeflen View Post
    For instance, I just listened to this recording of Saint Saens' Organ symphony. I had not heard it before. I found it to be lively and extremely well produced. Are there better recordings? Maybe. But I feel familiar enough with the piece now to judge other productions of it.

    Karajan is like a really good restaurant. You can expect nearly everything to be prepared well. Sometimes it isn't the most inspired dish around, but occasionally it is.
    That's exactly what Karajan aimed for and why so many of us practicing musicians take issue with him. He wanted a monopoly on the recording industry. It was brand name classical music. You can always expect the same sound and the best production values. Served up just like a McDonald's Happy Meal.

    Why take a chance on real artists taking bold risks? Karajan offers you dependability. It is corporate mediocrity to a tee. We see the same thing with movies today. Gone are the days of real stories and bold movies. Corporate Hollywood doesn't want to take risks. So they serve up the same regurgitated formulas that will guarantee ticket sales. Same concept as what Karajan offered.

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  12. #113
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    Quote Originally Posted by Phil loves classical View Post
    I would also mention his Bruckner 8, which sounds great, and his Prokofiev 5. Yes, his R. Strauss is great. I felt he was also quite good with Tchaikovsky's symphonies.
    Yes.
    When I saw the title of this thread, I immediately thought of Karajan's Bach as his worst: turgid, glossy, uninteresting.

    I believe that his best work is in the late 19th and 20th centuries: Bruckner, Richard Strauss, Mahler, Sibelius, etc.
    But his sine qua non recording is probably that Prokofiev 5th: powerful, gripping, relentless, eerie. Unmatched even today.

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    Senior Member MatthewWeflen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brahmsianhorn View Post
    That's exactly what Karajan aimed for and why so many of us practicing musicians take issue with him. He wanted a monopoly on the recording industry. It was brand name classical music. You can always expect the same sound and the best production values. Served up just like a McDonald's Happy Meal.

    Why take a chance on real artists taking bold risks? Karajan offers you dependability. It is corporate mediocrity to a tee. We see the same thing with movies today. Gone are the days of real stories and bold movies. Corporate Hollywood doesn't want to take risks. So they serve up the same regurgitated formulas that will guarantee ticket sales. Same concept as what Karajan offered.
    I hear what you say, but the McDonald's analogy is not apt. Karajan's output is better than a Happy Meal. I would say it's more of a Wolfgang Puck situation. A guy who is a world class chef, but wants to own ten or more restaurants around the world.

    In my reading on Karajan, I think it stems from his desperate pre-war and mid-war years, of near starvation. He was driven to be financially successful. I don't think the art flowed from that, though. He had a conception of the perfect sound that he desired and worked towards for decades, he didn't alter the sound to be "more commercial."

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    Senior Member Becca's Avatar
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    My feeling is that Karajan was at his best when he had an equally strong willed person in the control room and the orchestra board room, i.e. Walter Legge. In the later Berlin years he became the undisputed boss which can be both good and bad ... the bad being that there aren't many willing to stand up to him when needed.

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  16. #116
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    Quote Originally Posted by MatthewWeflen View Post
    He was driven to be financially successful. I don't think the art flowed from that, though. He had a conception of the perfect sound that he desired and worked towards for decades, he didn't alter the sound to be "more commercial."
    Werner Tharichen, Berlin Philharmonic percussionist:

    "Karajan was the first to be completely different. He wasn't a creator, but a fantastic salesman. He sold the music, he sold himself, and he sold us too. And that's appropriate these days, isn't it? We knew this, and that's why we wanted him. In the old days we got to know many incredibly beautiful things. Karajan, too, wanted this orchestra because it carried Furtwangler's sound."

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    Quote Originally Posted by Becca View Post
    My feeling is that Karajan was at his best when he had an equally strong willed person in the control room and the orchestra board room, i.e. Walter Legge. In the later Berlin years he became the undisputed boss which can be both good and bad ... the bad being that there aren't many willing to stand up to him when needed.
    Yes Culshaw made the remark that in the end he was 'knee deep in doormats who would bow to his every whim...' Culshaw quoted the ridiculous cuts he made in the second Otello and the lazy recoding techniques used. Not to say that his later recordings were all bad by any means but I think a strong personality like HvK needed a strong producer like Legge or Culshaw to bring out the best. Of course, Karajan was a control freak and had absolutely everything under control in his own mind by the end which wasn't always helpful to those working with him. No question he had a genius for seeing a work like Tristan as a huge tapestry but lesser mortals could fall short of the ideal and it could lead to strange balances in the recording.

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  19. #118
    Senior Member Baron Scarpia's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Becca View Post
    My feeling is that Karajan was at his best when he had an equally strong willed person in the control room and the orchestra board room, i.e. Walter Legge. In the later Berlin years he became the undisputed boss which can be both good and bad ... the bad being that there aren't many willing to stand up to him when needed.
    There is something to this, something great coming from the clash of two strong personalities. And I think it extended into his first decade of recording with the Berlin Philharmonic through the end of the 60's when he making his mark. When it reached the point that DG couldn't say no to him and he got interested in tinkering with the recording process he started to become a parody of himself. There were flashes of brilliance in the last two decades, but not matching the creativity of the early years.

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    Senior Member Baron Scarpia's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brahmsianhorn View Post
    That's exactly what Karajan aimed for and why so many of us practicing musicians take issue with him. He wanted a monopoly on the recording industry. It was brand name classical music. You can always expect the same sound and the best production values. Served up just like a McDonald's Happy Meal.
    You expect to be taken seriously when you compare Karajan's recordings of Bruckner, Brahms, Wagner, to a happy meal?

    You could say Karajan/BPO was the IBM of classical music. There was a saying, "no one was ever fired for buying IBM." It was a reliable, high quality, expensive product, not necessarily the most innovative product. It's good to have IBM and it's good to have alternatives to IBM.

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  22. #120
    Senior Member MatthewWeflen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Baron Scarpia View Post
    You expect to be taken seriously when you compare Karajan's recordings of Bruckner, Brahms, Wagner, to a happy meal?

    You could say Karajan/BPO was the IBM of classical music. There was a saying, "no one was ever fired for buying IBM." It was a reliable, high quality, expensive product, not necessarily the most innovative product. It's good to have IBM and it's good to have alternatives to IBM.
    Yes, this is a good analogy. IBM occasionally innovates and moves the industry forward. But they can always be counted on to get the fundamentals right.

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