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Pierre's Tuesday Blog

Handel, Mozart, Herbert von Karajan ‎– The Water Music Suite / Eine Kleine Nachtmusik

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This week’s Vinyl’s Revenge share is a rare EMI recording of Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic – rare, simply because most of the discography of Karajan and his Berlin orchestra belongs to the Deutsche Grammophon catalogue. We forget, however, that Karajan’s career post-World War II had a somewhat formative period in London of all places. To discuss, let me borrow some excerpts from a five-year old article from an Australian publication.

Karajan was born in 1908, which, in the words of his biographer Richard Osborne, was “the wrong time”’ he was destined to live through World Wars I and II, and through the Cold War and he would die shortly before the Berlin wall came down. But being born in 1908 also meant that Karajan reached some major personal milestones at exactly the right moment in world history.

The war may have been deeply traumatic but when hostilities ceased in 1945, he was 37, an age when a conductor still counts as young but, if he has learned his craft properly, has a large repertoire under his belt.

The 1950s, perhaps the key decade in the forming of the Karajan brand, was also the decade of huge technological innovation. Few musicians understood its potential as well as Karajan. As Osborne said, “He was absolutely the right man at the right time, because although there were a number of other great conductors from the previous generation whom he revered – like Furtwängler, Toscanini, Bruno Walter and so on – they were not recording as they might have done if they’d been around when LP and tape came along. And so he was perfectly placed. He lived through LP, stereo and the arrival of digital sound.”

Ironically it was Germany’s wartime adversaries who proved Karajan’s greatest ally during the 1950s. The EMI producer Walter Legge, a keen Germanophile and a natural (if not practising) musician, had A&R instincts second to none. Apart from Karajan, he brought to disc a new generation of conductors that included Giulini, Klemperer, Cantelli and Sawallisch. Legge’s mission was to build a record catalogue for the post-war age, recording – in the new media of, first, LP and then stereo – the core repertoire in quality that would stand the test of time. A glance through his productions shows he did just that. He was the midwife to many of the classic recordings from the 1950s, and many were conducted by Karajan.

Again, timing was all: war had taken its toll on many of the great European orchestras, and Legge needed an ensemble to work with in the studio. His creation was the Philharmonia Orchestra, assembled in 1945; as Richard Osborne points out “by the middle 1950s the Philharmonia Orchestra, as put together by Legge and Karajan, was probably the best orchestra in the world.”

The Philharmonia years were important not just for the high-quality of the music-making – the elegance of, say, Karajan’s Der Rosenkavalier or Die Fledermaus remains wondrous – but they brought into existence the notion of performing for the gramophone record.

Having whipped the orchestra into shape (and what shape!) Karajan and Legge systematically set about recording what today tends to be the ‘core’ repertoire, indeed one might argue that they helped construct this ‘core’ repertoire.
When Karajan took over the Berlin Philharmonic from Furtwangler, he was still under contract to EMI and committed some of their early tenure to that label. Today’s share includes a few Mozart titles – Eine Kleine Nachtmuzik (in a syrupy recording if you ask me), a few German dances and a layover rendition of the Ave Verum Corpus with the Philharmonia. The flip side of the record is a performance of Water Music highlights as assembled by Sir Hamilton Harty, a kind of tip of the hat to Karajan’s years in London.

As I’ve relayed in pasty posts, this is one of those “Made in Italy” pressings I purchased at a deep discount in the early 1980’s, a licenced re-issue from the EMI Classics catalogue, now owned by Warner Classics. They, in turn, are responsible for the tracks being found on YouTube, and here we are…

Not my favourite Karajan recording, but still worth listening to.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Serenade In G Major: K.525 "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik"
Ave, Verum Corpus, K.618 (*)
(Choir – Singverein Der Gesellschaft Der Musikfreunde In Wien)
German Dances: K. 602, No. 3 - K. 600, No. 5 - K. 605, No. 3

Sir Hamilton HARTY (1879-1941)

Suite From Handel's Water Music (1922)

Berliner Philharmoniker
Philharmonia Orchestra (*)
Herbert von Karajan, conducting

Longanesi Periodici ‎– GCL - 02
(Reissue of Angel Records ‎– 35948)
Format: Vinyl, LP, Stereo
Original Release - 1961

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