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Thread: Best and Worst Recordings: Karajan

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    Senior Member MatthewWeflen's Avatar
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    Default Best and Worst Recordings: Karajan

    I have been thinking about the music particular conductors are very good or very bad at directing. Now, my knowledge wheelhouse is Karajan, so here's a stab at his best and worst (a similar exercise would be a lot of fun with other large-catalog conductors like Bernstein, Solti, etc.):

    His best:

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    Strauss is an area of little argument, even among HvK's detractors. I find this 1973 recording of "Also Sprach Zarathustra" to be the finest one I've heard. The dynamics, especially in the famous opening, are just pulse pounding, but the solos and softer elements are treated with the utmost delicacy. This is the benchmark I measure other renditions by, and all have come up wanting.

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    Similarly, his Alpensinfonie is tough to beat. This 1981 recording was maligned as an early "bad" digital DG record, but remastering has revealed it to be a wonderful account of this tone poem.

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    Speaking of digital recordings, this 1983 recording of Metamorphosen and Tod und Verklarung is just stunningly emotional.

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    Herbie was often lampooned as someone who recycled canon warhorses. This 1974 Second Vienna school compilation belies this notion. I particularly like the Verklarte Nacht rendition here.

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    Karajan's Mahler does not have seem to have many fans as a whole, but few can argue with this 1982 live 9th. An amazing achievement for an old conductor beset by health problems.
    Last edited by MatthewWeflen; Jul-14-2019 at 17:01.

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    Senior Member MatthewWeflen's Avatar
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    Speaking of incredible marathons for an octogenarian, Karajan's last recording, of Bruckner's 7th, just throbs with romantic feeling, not to mention an elegiac sense of foreboding and bittersweet loss.

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    This is likely my most controversial pick, but I think Karajan's 1977 Beethoven cycle stands out for its dynamism, and also its consistency from symphony to symphony. Most complete cycles have a dud or two. This one (I would argue) does not. It may not have the single best rendition of each one, but as a group it's hard to top.

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    Karajan's 1961 rendition of the Planets with the VPO has an elemental energy which is terrifying in Mars, and a sweeping romanticism in Jupiter that is ravishing. Saturn is misty and mysterious, as well. Overall a wonderful set of these compositions that can easily stand as one's reference recording.

    And now for the worst:

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    Possibly HvK's most notorious recording, Stravinsky famously hated this 1964 rendition, labeling one part of it "tempo de hoochie-coochie." This is one that people point to when they claim that Karajan does not tailor his sound to the composition.

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    Karajan's 1964 Brandenburg Concertos are a bit of a train wreck. Although I do not subscribe to the cliche knocks on his work as "slick," "shallow," "obsessed with surfaces" and "overproduced," well.... yeah, this is all of those. Yeesh. I replaced it with Pinnock and it was like hearing them for the first time.

    Karajan re-recorded these in the late 70s, and the results were not much of an improvement.
    Last edited by MatthewWeflen; Jul-14-2019 at 17:09.

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    Senior Member Becca's Avatar
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    My view is that some of the best of HvK can be found in the Philharmonia/EMI recordings produced with Walter Legge from the 1950's and shortly after that. At the other end of the spectrum is some of his DGG/BPO Bruckner which, for me at least, made me dislike some of the symphonies until I finally got around to listening to other version.

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    Senior Member MatthewWeflen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Becca View Post
    My view is that some of the best of HvK can be found in the Philharmonia/EMI recordings produced with Walter Legge from the 1950's and shortly after that. At the other end of the spectrum is some of his DGG/BPO Bruckner which, for me at least, made me dislike some of the symphonies until I finally got around to listening to other version.
    I'm a bit of a snob for modern sound, so the Philharmonia recordings don't do it for me. In my book, Karajan's best period was mid 60s to late 70s, the height of the analog tape era. And yeah, I know a bunch of my picks are from the 80s digital period, but while he had more misses than hits then, these particular hits were home runs.

    I'm surprised to hear that reaction to his Bruckner. I was under the impression that it was nearly universally admired (I certainly do).
    Last edited by MatthewWeflen; Jul-14-2019 at 07:01.

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    Senior Member geralmar's Avatar
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    The Vivaldi was not well-received:


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    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    Like any conductor there are recordings of his i love and others that dont float my boat at all. Here's two i love. For me, this Beethoven cycle is still the benchmark i judge others against and that Mahler 9 is something else.

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    And two that are far from terrible but a bit soggy and overblown

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    I much prefer Karajan's VPO Planets and i have so many other great Schumann cycles that this one has slipped so far down the list its not on the radar any more.

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    Senior Member TxllxT's Avatar
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    Best:

    Herbert von Karajan in Sibelius' fifth manages to evoke myth in its most elemental Gestalt. Powerful and truthful.



    Worst:


    Herbert von Karajan in Sibelius' first is heavy-handed like a dance of mammoths. A disaster.

    All we like sheep

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    Senior Member Rogerx's Avatar
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    Milestones in recording history .

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    Senior Member Becca's Avatar
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    Thank you for mentioning Boheme ... I have never understood the fascination for it given the plodding tempi.

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    Senior Member MatthewWeflen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by geralmar View Post
    The Vivaldi was not well-received:

    I quite like the one with Anne-Sophie Mutter, FWIW.

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    Senior Member MatthewWeflen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TxllxT View Post
    Best:

    Herbert von Karajan in Sibelius' fifth manages to evoke myth in its most elemental Gestalt. Powerful and truthful.



    Worst:


    Herbert von Karajan in Sibelius' first is heavy-handed like a dance of mammoths. A disaster.

    I adore the 7th on that record, too. His EMI Sibelius recordings are... an acquired taste. Not for everyone

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    Default

    Here’s the worst recording by him


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    Default

    And here’s the best


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    Best Herbie IMO are his ‘64 Brahms 1st, ‘82 Mahler 9th, and ‘47 Brahms Requiem.

    His most overrated recordings are the Beethoven 9th, specifically for the critical choral finales which lack sufficient drama and choral body from the Vienna Singverein.

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    Senior Member MatthewWeflen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brahmsianhorn View Post
    Best Herbie IMO are his ‘64 Brahms 1st, ‘82 Mahler 9th, and ‘47 Brahms Requiem.

    His most overrated recordings are the Beethoven 9th, specifically for the critical choral finales which lack sufficient drama and choral body from the Vienna Singverein.
    Yep, per Brahmsianhorn, I think Karajan's 60s Brahms cycle deserves a spot on the best of list. The 1st and 4th are world-beaters.

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