Reviews of some of the original recordings that make up this set.
Karajan's version of the Alpensinfonie is superb even if it neither displaces the Kempe LP account with the Dresden State Orchestra, nor is so spectacularly recorded as the Solti LP performance with the Bavarian Radio orchestra. In its CD form it has imposing presence and clarity, and the present transfer has the edge over the LP format in so far as there is a somewhat firmer and betterdefined bass, and the "Thunderstorm" is impressively detailed. Some readers will find an interesting discrepancy if they compare the passage between figs. 17-21 on the CD, LP and cassette formats: the off-stage horns are slightly less distant on the cassette than on the LP where there is plenty of space, and not at all distant on the new CD transfer (earlier copies circulated to the Press were not put on sale). Indeed, I thought the LP scored in this particular passage until I discovered that the LP pressing I possess has now been replaced by another in which Karajan, dissatisfied with certain passages, had further recording sessions so that on the LPs, cassettes and CDs now on sale, the off-stage horns are uniformly nearer. Personally-- –and with respect—I do not find this particular detail an improvement, but this is a small criticism that does not affect the overall verdict. Undoubtedly impressive.
-- R.L., Gramophone [5/1983]
"In Lieder on record (CUP) out this month, Michael Kennedy makes out a strong case for Karajan's
with Gundula Janowitz commenting that she has the ''Straussian voice par excellence, carrying in its tone and timbre echoes of Strauss opera heroines''. Precisely the same can be said of Tomowa-Sintow and, like Janowitz, she captures the ''sensuous overtones'' in the passage starting ''Und die Seele'' in the third song. Indeed, I find her altogether more communicative than Janowitz and perhaps even more lovely in tone, more vibrant and appealing. Her closest rival in that respect among available versions is Te Kanawa on CBS, but somehow Dame Kiri is less idiomatic, more cautious in her rapture.
Another relevant comparison both between the earlier Karajan and the current readings is in the matter of speeds. I was astonished to find that in almost every case Karajan is a good deal swifter than his rivals and his earlier self except in the final song where the speed is virtually the same. That is all gain and gives these pieces an added urgency, less of the portentousness and self-regard that is found on the Norman/Masur Philips recording, which has certainly worn less well than I expected.
The voice is beautifully recorded, but the orchestra sometimes has that curious digital feeling of being in a no-man's-land, though the playing itself is glorious. As an interpretation the Karajan comes nearest to the Tennstedt (EMI), both glowingly tense. I would not be without either, specially as Popp is a mite more spontaneous than Tomowa-Sintow, though not so full and creamy in tone...
If you needed convincing that you must have the new DG disc, the coupling would decide the matter, for the closing scene from Capriccio provides the ideal partner to the Four Last Songs, with Die heiligen drei Konige as a light buffer between the two serious works. The only other recent version of the Four Last Songs coupled with the Capriccio closing scene is that by Soderstrom, recently reissued by EMI Eminence at budget price (EMX412091-1, 8/78—LP only). Palpitating as Soderstrom may be as Countess Madeleine, Salzburg's reigning soprano in that role seems to me to surpass her here in terms of voluptuous tone, and the two sopranos are certainly equals in suggesting the difficulty of the choice between poet and composer and the obvious feelings the Countess has for both, the passage beginning ''Du wirst geliebt'' having erotic overtones here. Karajan gives his soprano incandescent support and the playing, needless to say, is superb...This is a 'must' for all Straussians, and surely for many others.
-- Alan Blyth, Gramophone [10/1986]
The new Tod und Verklärung is not so spectacularly recorded as Dorati's brightly-lit Detroit account (Decca) nor so naturally spacious and atmospheric as Tennstedt's new record with the LPO (EMI) but it is a greater performance than either, and to my mind finer than any of Karajan's earlier versions. Indeed, I found it quite electrifying with superb playing from all departments and a life-and-death intensity to the climaxes. It is more vividly recorded than last time round and, as I have indicated, the performance is tauter (25'23" against 27'00" in 1974) and more powerful... [I]t would be difficult to improve on these performances by the greatest Richard Strauss conductor of the day and the glorious BPO, and the quality of the recording gives no cause for reproach.
-- Gramophone [5/1983]
As a performance the 1983 Karajan
Also sprach Zarathustra
(coupled with an exciting account of
) will be hard to beat and could very well be first choice...the massed violins produce wonderfully radiant tetures...The soaring main theme of
is hardly less sumptuous and the playing is electrifying in its energy."
-- Penguin Guide [2003/4 Edition]