A very intriguing CD, since Karajan was almost the mirror opposite of Stravinsky as a conductor. We get a prime example in this Symphony in C from 1970 of turning an angular "secco" work of neocolassicism into something quite romantic. The softer parts are elegant and even pretty; the string sound is full and sweet; climaxes are heartfelt and dramatic. so many deviations from Stravinsky's own style could sound very wrong, and if you cock your ear a certain way, Karajan's reading seems foreign to the composer's intentions. But it's awfully impressive sheerly as music-making.
So far as I know, this bargain CD is the only way to get Karajan's Symphony of Psalms, recorded in 1975 and somewhat undone sonically by the difficult venue of the Philharmonie. The diction of the lusty choristers from the Deutschen Oper Berlin is blurry, and the boomy sound stage around the small orchestra is like a canyon. but I wonder how comfortable Karajan felt with the music itself. This is not...
Stravinsky's three great mature symphonies are often packaged together. Which is fine: they all fit nicely onto one CD for a start and there's a thematic unity of a kind. 'In C' and 'In Three Movements' bookend the Second World War: the former all lofty detachment, the latter all righteous fury, with 'Of Psalms', the earliest, making up the set as a brooding prophecy. (It also happens to be one of the masterpieces of the early twentieth century.) If one were to lose one, 'In Three Movements' is probably the weakest and on this Karajan recording it is replaced by the Concerto in D. (There are fine recordings of 'In Three Movements' elsewhere: Colin Davis with the L S O on Philips and Alexander Gibson with the R S N O on Chandos stand out.) How does Karajan's rendering of the other two fare against the competition?
In spite of Herbert and Igor perhaps not seeming a match made in heaven (a musical Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact), it should come as no surprise that the maestro...
Herbert von Karajan may be better known for 19th Century romantic music, but he did 20th Century music consistently well.
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