Karajan en Italie Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 41 in C major ‘Jupiter’ K551 (1788) [27:59] Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 73 (1877) [38:20]
Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major Op. 83 (1881) [46:22] Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 9 in D minor Op. 125 Choral (1824) [68:06] Béla BARTÓK (1881–1945)
Piano Concerto No.3 (1945) [23:17]
Teresa Stich-Randall (soprano); Hilde Rössl-Majdan (contralto); Waldemar Kmentt
(tenor); Gottlob Frick (bass)
Orchestra of RAI, Turin (Mozart, Bartok)
Orchestra of RAI, Rome (Brahms, Beethoven)
Herbert von Karajan
rec. Turin and Rome 1953-54 TAHRA TAH611-13 [3 CDs:
66:59 + 68:06 + 70:14]
first Italian visits occurred in wartime but he returned
quite regularly thereafter and these three CDs document his
performances during the years 1953 and 1954. The repertoire
is essentially standard – only the Bartók is somewhat off
the beaten track for Karajan – and he’s heard with two of
the orchestras with which he worked when in the country – the
RAI orchestras in Turin and Rome.
Mozart has all the accustomed qualities one would expect
to find in his performance – clarity, precision, and a certain
moulding of string phraseology which will strike one either
as elegant or mannered according to taste. And beyond that
a somewhat aloof profile in the slow movement - but a compensatory
dynamism in the finale. The orchestra responds with alacrity
and immediacy to his direction and they sound very well drilled.
The Brahms Second Symphony was taped in Rome in 1953. The
virtues here are more evident but the sense of expressive
disengagement in the Adagio is still a troubling if perhaps
expected feature. Karajan clearly took great pains to ensure
wind separation and balance. One can trace the flutes’ lines
with chart-like precision. To suggest a navigational or map-like
accuracy to his direction is hardly a novel observation but
it’s in these small details that one appreciates the level
of preparation that Karajan undertook to ensure that his
symphonic perceptions remained uncompromised. There’s certainly
grandeur and power in the Adagio but the sense of control
can stifle a full blossoming of expression – precisely, one
assumes, what he was aiming for. Those who seek the charge
of “sleekness” in his direction might find evidence for it
in the Scherzo but the finale certainly gathers momentum
and ends in a real blaze – tremendously exciting.
second disc is entirely devoted to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
Tensile, linear and in the Toscanini mould, this is more
evidence of his brilliant but variably engaged musicianship.
Much here is magnificent and he gets the orchestra to play,
once again in this series of live performances, with real
polish and precision of articulation and phrasing. The executants
are in the grip of an imposing and directional force in the
shape of the conductor but the slow movement proves equivocal.
It lurches between twin poles of expression and unbalances
the emotive direction of the performance. Something of the
same happens in the finale where the excessive moulding of
the choral entries sounds overly nuanced. The solo singing
however is technically speaking excellent. And the sound
is equally good, ensuring we hear this imposing, tensile
and frequently overwhelming performance in all its immediacy.
sound for the Brahms collaboration with Anda is a touch splintery
and compressed. The balance between piano and orchestra however
was well managed by the radio engineers. Those familiar with
the later 1960 Anda-Fricsay recording in Berlin will soon
find that the two conductors take a strongly divergent approach.
Karajan slices two minutes off Fricsay’s timing for the first
movement alone and whilst the remaining movements aren’t
subject to quite this level of radical overhaul it’s true
that Karajan takes a considerably more lean and propulsive
approach throughout. That said there is still real flexibility
in the Italian performance and Anda brings great warmth;
his slips in the scherzo are passing ones. I don’t find Karajan’s
solutions in the finale especially convincing however; the
dance rhythms are over-cooked.
Bartók does seem to me the superior collaboration between
the two men. It’s deft, rhythmically vital, and illuminated
by some brilliant firefly coloration. Throughout the ensemble
is solid, the musicianship of a highly distinguished stamp
and the characterization of the music – from pianist and
conductor – exceptionally vivid. The faster section of Andante
religioso is a particularly fine example of the vital
pulse of the music making, one which fuses flexibility and
expression in equal measure.
notes are, to put it mildly, more than a little idiosyncratic
being devoted to a demolition job on the conductor whose
music is being promoted. This is certainly a commercial novelty
and takes some guts!
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John Quinn Seen & Heard Editor Emeritus Bill Kenny Editor in Chief
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