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Karajan In Concert

Karajan / Weissenberg / Bpo
Release Date: 05/13/2008 
Label:  Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog #: 001099209  
Composer:  Ludwig van BeethovenGioachino RossiniRichard WagnerCarl Maria von Weber,   ... 
Performer:  Alexis Weissenberg
Conductor:  Herbert von Karajan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

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Notes and Editorial Reviews



KARAJAN IN CONCERT & Herbert von Karajan, cond; Alexis Weissenberg (pn); 1 Berlin P DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 001099209 (2 DVDs: 206:38)


BEETHOVEN Egmont: Overture. Coriolan: Overture. ROSSINI Guillaume Tell: Read more class="ARIAL12">Overture. WAGNER Tannhäuser: Overture. WEBER Der Freischütz: Overture. DEBUSSY La mer. Prélude à l’apres-midi d’un faune. RACHMANINOff Piano Concerto No. 2. 1 RAVEL Daphnis et Chloe: Suite No. 2


& Documentary, “Karajan—Impressions” (59:39)


All of these Unitel-filmed performances took place in the Philharmonie, Berlin. Typical Karajan traits are immediately apparent in the Coriolan Overture: depth of sound, built from the double-basses up; a Teutonic seriousness of utterance. This is huge Beethoven, with phrases that move with all the inevitability of molten lava. Karajan’s conducting is, as always, supremely expressive of gesture (eyes firmly shut, of course). The camerawork for this Coriolan sets the scene for the rest of the set—Karajan is all but omnipresent. A favorite shot is of the maestro seen through a forest of violin bows. Karajan’s pacing, though, is spot-on, and in this most dramatic of Beethoven overtures, the Karajan approach is a near bull’s eye. Egmont emerges as Coriolan ’s blood brother in the depth of string sound Karajan elicits from his forces. Discipline is miraculous—first violins move together with preternatural exactitude; lower strings dig in to phrase beginnings in the Overture proper with visceral bite. The final “Battle Scene” blazes with ferocity; Karajan’s gestures, always fluid, tend towards the magisterial here.


The Maestro’s way with Wagner has, arguably, never really reached truly “great” status. The typically Karajan trait of eternal legato infuses this Tannhäuser Overture with an internal warmth, while retaining the grandeur. Yet it is always Wagner seen and heard through Karajan’s goggles. I wrote of Karajan’s film of Rheingold ( Fanfare 32:1) that, “Karajan frequently makes the score too much of himself and too little of the composer,” and that description fits here too. Wonderful, though, to hear the Berliners’ string discipline in this Tannhäuser.


Wagner and Weber become first cousins in Karajan’s account of the Freischütz Overture. The opening section surely refers to a landscape close to that of Rheingold —it certainly seems to occupy a similarly mythic, shadowy “otherland.” Overall, this is a tremendous performance of Freischütz , meaty and dynamic in the faster section.


Karajan was fascinated by Debussy’s Pelléas . Even if his La mer does sound, on occasion, quite Germanic, it beats Rattle’s much more recent EMI essay with the Berlin Phil hands down. The director of photography, Ernst Wild, has the camera move from one solo instrument to another in a way that can be quite dizzying at times. If textures can occasionally tend towards the thick, any qualms are effectively nullified by the intrinsically dramatic nature of Karajan’s interpretation. Perhaps Karajan’s approach does not yield quite so many rewards in the Prélude à l’après-midi d’une faune , which, despite its many fine attributes (including the Berlin principal flutist) sits in cool shade rather than languishing in a misty, impressionist afternoon sun. The Ravel is taken from the same source as the Debussy, but in the playing order it comes after the Rachmaninoff—a pity, as this points out the similarity of Karajan’s approach to the long lines of both Rachmaninoff and Ravel. True, the lustrous sheen on the violins for “Lever du jour” ( Daphnis ) works well, and only the most hardened of critics (which isn’t me—not yet, anyway) would deny the validity of Karajan’s take on this work. The actual moment of daybreak is resplendently recorded. There is no denying, also, the virtuosity on display in the final “Danse générale.”


Alexis Weissenberg’s EMI recording of the Rachmaninoff with Karajan was reviewed by Peter Rabinowitz in Fanfare 28:2. Weissenberg and Karajan are similarly indulgent here. The long string lines are milked remorselessly. Weissenberg is in true cahoots with his collaborator. The opening tolling bell (the left-hand bass) implies the serious, almost ominous approach that will follow. Astute camerawork ensures that both soloist and conductor are in clear view as the opening melody unfolds (a similar technique is used at the opening of the slow movement, but in reverse—our attention is on Karajan, with Weissenberg in the background). The slow movement is remarkably self-indulgent (I for one would not have been surprised if they had used soft-focus throughout), the one high point being Weissenberg’s cadenza. Weissenberg’s technique makes light of the finale’s many difficulties, too, with passages that in lesser hands sound clumsy here dispatched with nonchalant aplomb.


The hour-long film by Vojt?ch Jasný that appends the music is a portrait, a collection of reminiscences, flecked with excerpts of various projects: from the 1973 Karajan film of Verdi’s Otello , for example, and Karajan discussing the staging for a Fidelio and for the film of Rheingold mentioned earlier. Eliette von Karajan talks about her paintings, and we see the Maestro flying his personal jet. Most interesting, though, is the rehearsal of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony (a young Seiji Ozawa sits attentively with score in the stalls). Karajan wears black, against a black background so it looks like his head and hands are floating, disembodied. Tenor David Rendell rehearses “Dies Bildnis is bezaubernd schön” from Zauberflöte with Karajan on piano, and in the process we get to hear Karajan speak English (“Do you actually speak German?” he asks Rendell). Even Karajan’s relationship with his parents is explored, before his bond with the city of Salzburg (and opera there) is revealed. We see the Fidelio we glimpsed earlier coming together (José van Dam is Rocco; Hildegard Behrens, Leonore); also, we return to Mahler (now the Sixth, with Karajan in the studio listening to playback) before a final dwelling on the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth. A brief résumé of the beginnings of Karajan’s career from Ulm and Aachen onwards sets near idyllic scenes of family life. Interestingly, there is plenty of narcissism in evidence, but not a mention of Nazism. In a way, this film seeks to cover it all (with the exception of the Swastika), and in so doing leaves us with a portrait of a man who, love him or hate him, could not be ignored.


The Karajan specialist Richard Osborne provides the booklet notes for this thought-provoking release.


FANFARE: Colin Clarke
2 DVD-VIDEO NTSC 073 4399
STEREO: PCM / SURROUND: DTS 5.1
Picture Format: 4:3
Portrait in German with English subtitles
A production of UNITEL, Munich

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Works on This Recording

1.
Coriolan Overture in C minor, Op. 62 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Herbert von Karajan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1807; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 1975 
2.
Egmont, Op. 84: Overture by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Herbert von Karajan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1810; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 1975 
3.
Guillaume Tell: Overture by Gioachino Rossini
Conductor:  Herbert von Karajan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1829; Italy 
Date of Recording: 1975 
4.
Tannhäuser: Overture by Richard Wagner
Conductor:  Herbert von Karajan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1845/1861; Germany 
Date of Recording: 1975 
5.
Der Freischütz, J 277: Overture by Carl Maria von Weber
Conductor:  Herbert von Karajan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1817-1821; Dresden, Germany 
Date of Recording: 1975 
6.
Concerto for Piano no 2 in C minor, Op. 18 by Sergei Rachmaninov
Performer:  Alexis Weissenberg (Piano)
Conductor:  Herbert von Karajan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: Russia 
Date of Recording: 1972 
7.
La mer by Claude Debussy
Conductor:  Herbert von Karajan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1903-1905; France 
Date of Recording: 1978 
8.
Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune by Claude Debussy
Conductor:  Herbert von Karajan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1892-1894; France 
Date of Recording: 1978 
9.
Daphnis et Chloé: Excerpt(s) by Maurice Ravel
Conductor:  Herbert von Karajan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1909-1912; France 
Date of Recording: 1978 

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