PROKOFIEV: Symphony No. 5 in B Flat Op. 100,
STRAVINSKY: The Rite of Spring (1977 recording)
Herbert von Karajan
DG The Originals
463-613-2 78m ADD.
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Karajan's famous recording of Prokofiev's Fifth was always hailed as the
definitive account of this great work and now, newly refurbished and with
extra remastering at mid-price it continues to hold forth with consummate
ease over the competition. The taut structure is held together with a well-nigh
perfect alertness. It appears that Karajan's 'work' over the piece paid handsome
dividends for this recording is unsurpassed. Others have attempted this Everest
of 20th century music most notably Koussevitzky, Weller and Jarvi although
all but the former fall well short of the standard that Karajan and his Berliners
set. It is a once in a lifetime reading and as such we are lucky to have
it restored for posterity in such excellent sound.
This is Karajan's second attempt at Stravinsky's 'magnum opus' and many would
agree that this 1977 version is the one to have. The exacting bite and pungency
of the BPO is married with a rhythmic intensity that is almost inexhaustible,
considering Karajan's relapse in the middle of the sessions (vide Richard
Osborne's colourful notes). The standard of playing is almost beyond belief,
one has to hear to believe that such things are humanly possible. Comparing
the earlier 1964 relay was instructive and I entirely agree with RO's statement
that the later version improves considerably on the previous incarnation.
Alongside the previous DG disc of New Viennese School works, this issue is
another confirmation of Karajan's greatness in 20th century repertoire.