Notes and Editorial Reviews
Volume 2 of EMI's comprehensive Herbert von Karajan centenary edition gathers virtually all of the conductor's operatic and vocal output for the label in one place, taking up 71 CDs (Disc 72 contains complete librettos in the form of PDF files). I use the word "virtually" because the package omits four posthumously issued archival items taped live during the 1957-60 Salzburg Festivals (Beethoven's Missa solemnis, Brahms' German Requiem, Bruckner's Te Deum, and Verdi's Requiem). Otherwise, it's all here.
As with Volume 1, EMI's transfers largely correspond to those used for the label's most recent reissue of a specific recording. Consistency and logic have little to do with how the contents are organized, a situation
further compounded by the lack of a cross-indexed guide to each disc by composer, work, and performer. Yet despite my editorial carping, this is a most desirable collection on several levels.
For starters, it's an amazing bargain. You pay around two dollars per disc (or less, if you know where to look online) for a well designed boxed set dominated by highly regarded opera and choral recordings, along with memorable aria recitals from the post-war years featuring Welitsch, Cebotari, Kunz, and a less mannered Schwarzkopf than we encounter in her venerated and debated 1956 Der Rosenkavalier (type Q4329 in Search Reviews). Secondly, this set covers lots of basic repertoire with a wide and multi-generational range of artists.
For intelligent production values, flawless ensemble interaction, and refined orchestral playing, the early mono Philharmonia recordings of Hänsel und Gretel, Cosi fan tutte, Die Fledermaus, and Ariadne auf Naxos remain points of reference. So do the 1977 Vienna Salome (with the young Hildegard Behrens on peak form in the title role), the lush yet buoyant 1978 Berlin Pelléas et Mélisande, and La Scala collaborations with Maria Callas (Il Trovatore, Madama Butterfly, and the extraordinary live 1955 Lucia di Lammermoor). The two complete Meistersingers (Bayreuth 1951 and Staatskapelle Dresden 1970) splendidly complement each other.
Even recordings you wouldn't recommend as first-choice versions hold major points of interest. These include José Carreras and Mirella Freni singing their hearts out in Verdi's Don Carlo and Aida, Jon Vickers' larger-than life Tristan and Florestan (in Fidelio), and Anton Dermota's gorgeous Tamino and Irmgard Seefried's delectable Pamina in the 1949 Vienna Magic Flute, plus stellar supporting vocalists (Piero Cappucilli and Elena Obraztsova) in the otherwise mediocre 1977 Berlin Il Trovatore. And there's much to savor in the big choral selections, notwithstanding less-than-ideal moments (the 1975 Brahms German Requiem's glacial final movement, overly severe pacing in parts of Haydn's Die Jahreszeiten).
In sum, Volume 2 pays ample tribute to Karajan's reputation as a man of the theater while offering a viable solution to budget-minded, space-deprived music lovers wishing to build an opera and vocal collection.
--Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com
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