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CD Review

Great Conductors of the 20th Century

Herbert von Karajan

1 Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan
2 Orchestra Sinfonica della RAI/Herbert von Karajan
3 Philharmonia Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan
4 Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan
EMI Great Conductors of the 20th Century 562869-2 2CDs 159m ADD
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This timely portrait of Herbert von Karajan's art is an excellent window on his recording career that spanned almost half a century. Some items have already been issued in the Karajan Edition that is now being progressively deleted but there are two substantial and important rarities in the shape of Walton's First Symphony and Mussorgsky's 'Pictures' which had long languished unreleased on CD.

The Walton First is indeed a recording to have and I would stick my neck out to say that it is one of the best recordings of this symphony ever made. Karajan finds a lot of passion in the rollicking First Movement and he recalls Harty's première recording (Dutton) in the intensity and white heat generated throughout the symphony. Although the recording is not outstanding, it still is adequate enough for its age and provenance.

This 1959 recording of Mussorgsky's 'Pictures' with the Philharmonia remains one of the finest ever recorded and it has long been overdue for reissue. I still have an EMI Italiana pressing on LP but that is in dull unfocused sound and it was a revelation to play through this performance again on CD. The grandiosity of the 'Promenades' and the imposing 'Great Gate of Kiev' together with the mystical 'Catacombs' are amongst the most descriptive interpretations around and are indeed much more colourful than Karajan's 1966 Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra remake.

Those who collected the magnificent Philharmonia and Vienna Philharmonic Karajan Editions will be acquainted with almost all the remaining recordings on this two-disc set. These include a striking and dark Sibelius Fourth, a dreamy 'Barcarolle' from Offenbach's 'Tales of Hoffmann' and a dashing Hungarian Rhapsody by Liszt. Lighter items such as Waldteufel's 'Les Patineurs' and two Chabrier items round off a well filled set that is unhesitatingly recommended to Karajan enthusiasts and more besides.

Copyright © 2004, Gerald Fenech