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CD Review

Wolfgang Mozart

Last Two Symphonies

  • Symphony #40 in G minor, K. 550
  • Symphony #41 in C Major "Jupiter", K. 551
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan
London/Decca Weekend Classics 417695-2
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Mr. Gerald Fenech reviewed these performances in 2008 as part of the (still) very expensive 9-CD set of Karajan's complete orchestral Decca recordings (Decca 4780166). My advice then is to find the discs in the series you like separately; the Tchaikovsky ballet suites have just been released on Decca "Virtuoso", for example. This review concerns the 1988 "Weekend Classics" issue, and while it may be difficult to find, I feel that it is worth discussing the performances in greater detail. In any event, I paid only a few dollars for my copy, and the sound is still just fine.

Karajan's Mozart performances are perhaps the least interesting of his career, in the sense that they really don't vary from version to version. They are grand, always very beautiful, but rarely essential. I suspect that they remain popular for so clearly illustrating the "Karajan sound", miraculously blended sonorities and the world's greatest ensembles to create it with. Once you've heard a Karajan Mozart Requiem, you've heard all four or five. The same is true with the various concerti and symphonies, though his work in opera is more varied (and thus worth hearing).

But these 1960 and 1963 performances are different, due in no small part to the glorious playing of the Vienna Philharmonic. Additionally, Karajan seems more involved here than in his later remakes for EMI and DG; phrases sing out, but ensemble balances are also more natural. Of the two, K550 is the better reading. There are few of the great conductor's later mannerisms, and the work comes out sounding surprisingly crisp and fresh. The "Jupiter" is admittedly heavier, but the alacrity of the final movement is both surprising and staggeringly executed. As mentioned, the sound is entirely worthy of your attention no matter which issue you happen to pick up. Recommended for those who bargain shop, and for those who want to test the waters on Karajan's Mozart.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman