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Karajan: Sibelius, 1976-1981


Release Date: 05/27/2014 
Label:  Warner Classics   Catalog #: 633619   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Jean Sibelius
Conductor:  Herbert von Karajan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 4 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Make no mistake, Karajan was a very great Sibelius conductor. He left four recordings of the Fifth Symphony, and two of the Second, a work that he didn’t particularly care for (and it shows–more on that shortly). When these late Karajan/early digital versions of the symphonies were released, they gave critics a shock. Gone, seemingly, was that ultra smooth, creamy Berlin sound so evident from the last round of Sibelius–and much else–on Deutsche Grammophon. The playing here is raw and edgy, if no less virtuosic. This being Berlin, the strings are still gorgeous, but now the brass blare, the timpani pound, and the woodwinds pierce through the texture plaintively. Climaxes are hair-raising. Check out the opening of Finlandia. There is a world Read more of difference between a good performance of this chestnut and a great one, and this is the best of the best. Indeed, the tone poems are all fabulous, including an En Saga full of primal excitement, and a Tapiola whose final storm will crush your soul. Even that famous wrong note in the cellos matters not a whit.

Karajan only made this single recording of the First Symphony, but it’s a show-stopper, thrillingly exciting and just about ideally paced. The finale has seldom captured the music’s wildness as well as its Tchaikovskian lyrical intensity with such power. In the Sixth, the swiftest of Karajan’s three readings of the work, he is one of the few conductors who has the courage (Bernstein was another) to play the finale’s concluding Allegro assai at tempo. Why so many conductors, including Berglund of all people, can’t take the composer at his word makes no sense at all. The result here is magical–the music soars as it must. The Fourth and Fifth, like the Sixth, were Karajan specialties, and if you already own Karajan’s earlier DG or EMI recordings, the approach has remained remarkably consistent, and totally convincing save, once again, for that extra, idiomatic roughness in sonority characteristic of these performances.

That brings us to the one misfire in this collection: the Second. The first three movements go well enough, but the finale trudges along, lasting a merciless sixteen minutes. The trumpets and trombones sound as though they were placed offstage, and the end result has nothing of the triumphant surge of sound that Sibelius envisaged. Even worse, the repetitious second subject that precedes the coda takes an interminable amount of time to get there. It’s just weird, as are the early digital sonics generally, which shift from work to work, even from movement to movement. Was the scherzo of the First Symphony recorded in another room, in another country, on another planet? Remastering can only do so much, and in general the sound has been cleaned up either for this set or in previous incarnations to the degree that the performances are perfectly listenable as long as you’re not an audiophile. Certainly the musical value of these performances is unquestionable.

-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

1.
Finlandia, Op. 26 by Jean Sibelius
Conductor:  Herbert von Karajan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: Finland 
Date of Recording: 12/1976 
Venue:  Philarmonie, Berlin 
Length: 9 Minutes 38 Secs. 
2.
Lemminkäinen Suite, Op. 22: no 3, Swan of Tuonela by Jean Sibelius
Conductor:  Herbert von Karajan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1893-1897; Finland 
Date of Recording: 09/1976 
Venue:  Philarmonie, Berlin 
Length: 8 Minutes 31 Secs. 
3.
En saga, Op. 9 by Jean Sibelius
Conductor:  Herbert von Karajan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892/1902; Finland 
Date of Recording: 12/1976 
Venue:  Philarmonie, Berlin 
Length: 18 Minutes 24 Secs. 
4.
Karelia Suite, Op. 11 by Jean Sibelius
Conductor:  Herbert von Karajan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1893; Finland 
Date of Recording: 01/1981 
Venue:  Philarmonie, Berlin 
Length: 16 Minutes 17 Secs. 
5.
Tapiola, Op. 112 by Jean Sibelius
Conductor:  Herbert von Karajan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1926; Finland 
Date of Recording: 12/1976 
Venue:  Philarmonie, Berlin 
Length: 19 Minutes 23 Secs. 
6.
Symphony no 1 in E minor, Op. 39 by Jean Sibelius
Conductor:  Herbert von Karajan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1899; Finland 
7.
Symphony no 4 in A minor, Op. 63 by Jean Sibelius
Conductor:  Herbert von Karajan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1911; Finland 
8.
Symphony no 5 in E flat major, Op. 82 by Jean Sibelius
Conductor:  Herbert von Karajan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1915/1919; Finland 
9.
Symphony no 6 in D minor, Op. 104 by Jean Sibelius
Conductor:  Herbert von Karajan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1923; Finland 
10.
Symphony no 2 in D major, Op. 43 by Jean Sibelius
Conductor:  Herbert von Karajan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1901-1902; Finland 
Date of Recording: 11/1980 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  3 Customer Reviews )
 Inspire November 8, 2014 By H. Aldujaili (Mississauga , ON) See All My Reviews "I decided to descover Sebelius the composer before more than 25 years ago but that didn't happen ... Now this set of CD's open the door for me to do so especialy the recording for CD's is very good additinal the condoct of Karajan all make this performance inspire of me . Cheers" Report Abuse
 Not all Karajan recs are glossy and superficial September 25, 2014 By a. sande (trondheim, sor-trondelag) See All My Reviews "I am among those who avoid Karajan generally. I try to keep an open mind to surprises, though, and I have a few really good Karajan recordings in my collection. Among these are some fine Sibelius, on EMI and DG. These are the EMI recordings, and they are just great, which I have noticed is more or less the common consensus. My other favourites are currently Barbirolli/Halle and Berglund/Bournemouth. Most reviewers also agree that the 2nd is the weakest spot in the present set, and that later remasterings have not added all that much to the first CD releases." Report Abuse
 Karelia Suite---close, but no cigar September 18, 2014 By Zita Carno (Tampa, FL) See All My Reviews "Here we go round the beebleberry bush for the second time. Karajan (and remember, he was born just Herbert Karajan and added the "von" later on)---was a great conductor in most matters, but I think that with Sibelius he was a little out of his depth. Yesterday I came home from marketing and turned on the TV to my favorite classical music channel, and there he was making like Herbert von Jerry-Atric in the last movement of the Karelia Suite. I said to myself: "Here we go again." The notes were there, but the spirit was not---and I think the composer may have been himself to blame for marking that march movement "moderato". The conductor took it very literally indeed. And I got to thinking about a disc you guys sent me some time back, with Sir Neville Marriner conducting the ASMF. And there was a huge difference indeed. First movement ("Intermezzo"): the tempo was moderato, as marked, but it had a certain lift, a sparkle that was missing in von Karajan's version. Second movement: the Ballade, in Sir Neville's hands, had the feeling of a sarabande of times past, warm and inviting the listener to partake and enjoy.As for that third movement---the March---Marriner disregarded the tempo indication and played it "Allegro con spirito", the way it should have been marked, and it swung! That was a real march, lively and getting people on their feet...and this I liked very much. Marriner has a way of finding the right tempos---something our friend Herbert seemed to be missing. And so I must say about von Karajan in this instance: close but no cigar...And now, for a review of the von Jerry-Atric version of the first symphony. In a word: O-U-C-H!!! I don't know which of the four recordings was played on Classical Masterpieces, but with the exception of the second movement the performance came perilously close to a train wreck. Geriatric he was not in this situation---but this was too much. I'm looking forward to checking out the Sony Essential Classics disc with the First by Ormandy, the Fifth by Bernstein and a charming little piece called Romance by Louis Lane, as soon as I can get my disc player cleaned up and running. As I've stated earlier---when it comes to Sibelius (and perhaps a few other composers), Herbert is rather out of his depth." Report Abuse
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