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CD Review

3 Classic Albums

Anne-Sophie Mutter, violin
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan
Deutsche Grammophon 4793078 3CDs
Find it at AmazonFind it at Amazon UKFind it at Amazon GermanyFind it at Amazon CanadaFind it at Amazon FranceFind it at Amazon Japan

All of these recordings are famous, and none are especially hard to find, but it's great to see such a novel way to get all this great music at once. Universal's Three Classic Albums series is attractive and affordable, and novices and collectors alike will be pleased with the slim and retro-style packaging. What's more, all three of these albums testify to Karajan and Mutter's unique partnership and artistic gifts.

Disc one is Mozart, and is more Mutter's show than the conductors'. Karajan was neither at his best or worst in Mozart; these big, hopelessly old-fashioned readings will hark back to days long gone. Mutter's recent Mozart has the advantage of more modern musical taste and general maturity, but no one can deny the sheer beauty that this pair lovingly conjures. If Mutter's younger self plays a touch too plainly in the slow movements, her teenage gifts still command considerable respect. While not a first-choice among hardcore collectors, I can't imagine anyone stumbling upon this disc being too upset.

If the first disc was Mutter's show, disc two is Karajan's. His massive and glacial framework for Beethoven must have seemed inert in 1980, but similarly large-scaled readings – even in today's era of modern scholarship – help to put it in perspective. The conductors' presence radiates in every bar, while Mutter's lovely solo line plays second fiddle (pardon the pun). I suspect that Mutter's youth and inexperience allowed the maestro to do this; nowhere else in his discography does he so easily dominate a soloist with his vision. And yet, it's not bad, it just isn't a reciprocal take on the work. Mutter really does possess a wonderful tone, and even at this early stage she proved entirely worthy of the music. And the Philharmonic is glorious, a reminder of how great this orchestra could sound.

Disc three is the most successful, and the performances here are almost universally acclaimed. Of the two, the Bruch is the standout, a magnificently played and conducted take that still holds your attention 33 years later. If the great Karajan dominated the Beethoven, he relaxes into a more giving state here. And Mutter really steals the show with a warm, singing quality throughout. The Mendelssohn is also distinguished, a fine account that suffers only from an overly-relaxed first movement. Beyond that, the Berlin forces again provide superlative musical support. Sometimes coupled with the Bruch (as here), and sometimes with the Brahms Violin Concerto, it remains a favorite of many.

The sound for all three albums is perfectly acceptable. Karajan and Mutter really did create some tremendous music together, and the results do everyone proud. If you don't own these albums, you ought to, and this is the easiest and most affordable way to get them so far.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman