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CD Review

Richard Strauss

Pristine 225

Ein Heldenleben

John Corigliano Sr., violin
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan
Pristine Audio PASC225
Also available on SACD:

This is the third and final volume devoted to the concerts Herbert von Karajan gave in New York in 1958. As the informative radio announcements in Volume II reveal, Karajan was best known to American audiences for his work in Vienna, rather than his then-recent appointment to the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. So, despite extensive work with London's Philharmonia and a growing reputation in the opera house, this captures the conductor before his worldwide fame and fortune. More valuably, each of the previous releases have captured fine performances with a world-class orchestra not decimated by wartime Europe. And though – as I've previously written – these are niche collectors' items in limited sound, hearing Karajan with Leonard Bernstein's orchestra undoubtedly holds a certain appeal.

Like the Beethoven performances on the previous issues, Karajan made seemingly endless Strauss recordings throughout his storied career, well into his final decade with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Though he has never been my "go to" for Ein Heldenleben, the orchestra plays magnificently here, graced by outstanding first-desk solo work and John Corigliano's noble violin playing. Karajan seems to be enjoying himself, though there are occasional moments of stiffness that rob the music of its playfulness. Additionally, music that relies so heavily on orchestral color struggles to cut through the limits of the AM radio technology. Andrew Rose has acknowledged these sonic challenges throughout the series, marking all three volumes "special interest", while being unusually frank about the deficiencies of these discs.

That said, Rose manages to use his "XR Remastering" techniques to excellent effect, capturing more detail from the orchestra than I had expected. Leonard Bernstein recorded – perhaps surprisingly, given his own larger-than-life personality – very little Strauss in New York, and so this is really a treat for historical collectors as the New York Philharmonic celebrates 175 years. These recordings have been available for quite some time, but this small label based in France hasn't gotten nearly the attention I think it should be getting. If you're looking for a way to celebrate the Philharmonic outside of the big box sets, a souvenir of Karajan's eight concerts in New York might just fit the bill.

Copyright © 2017, Brian Wigman