Historic Karajan–Primordial Sound

Review by: Victor Carr Jr


Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 4

Herbert von Karajan and the Vienna Philharmonic evidently (according to Richard Osborne in the liner notes) made a strong impression on the April 6, 1962 Royal Festival Hall audience (who applauded profusely at the concert’s conclusion), hence this recording’s “historic” appellation. Modern listeners will have to imagine through the cavernous, dynamically-limited recorded sound to get a sense of the “event”, although those familiar with Karajan’s latter day recordings will recognize the hand waving the baton, especially in the apparently massive build-up in the Bruckner Seventh.

This is essentially the same interpretation Karajan recorded commercially several times hence, the last also live with the Vienna Philharmonic. Karajan did slow down noticeably for the great Adagio (it’s a full minute longer in his final recording), but everywhere else the timings are consistent. The Karajan of 1962 was freer and more spontaneous with tempo (at least in front of an audience), and had not yet developed his penchant for textural refinement above all else. So, we hear a good bit of raucousness from the Vienna players, especially in the brass. Unfortunately along with this comes the sloppiness and poor intonation that were the orchestra’s reputation at that time.

Karajan’s Mozart Symphony No. 41 also didn’t change, except for the worse. The notably smooth orchestral texture on display here would later morph into a depressingly homogenized sound devoid of any rhythmic differentiation. Cream-puff Mozart. Nonetheless, this release will be of interest for Karajan fans, as well as for historical concert collectors who thrill to the “sense of occasion” (which included the British and Austrian national anthems!). Everyone else can safely let this pass.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

    Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Herbert von Karajan

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