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Herbert von Karajan: New Yearís Eve Concert 1983
ROSSINI Overture: Wilhelm Tell [12.16]
SMETANA Die Moldau [12.47]
SIBELIUS Valse Triste Op.44 [6.59]
Josef STRAUSS Delirien Waltz Op.212 [9.33]
Johann STRAUSS II Overture: Der Zigeunerbaron [9.23]
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan
Director: Humphrey Burton
rec. Philharmonie, Berlin, 31 December 1983
PAL 4:3; Dolby digital
SONY CLASSICAL DVD 88697296069 [50:58]
Experience Classicsonline

Apart from one occasion when the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra secured Karajan for their annual New Yearís Day concert, Karajan regularly conducted the one in Berlin the previous evening. Here we see him some five and a half years before his death, already crippled with arthritis, hands gnarled, arms stiffly unyielding and inexpressive. Itís hard to know quite what he is contributing to the proceedings once the programme had been rehearsed, other than to be feted by his adoring public, and stop and start each work. After half an hour it becomes a dull experience, predictable cross-fades and cuts, limited angles, blurred exits and entries between the works. Clearly under strict instructions not to show him moving slowly and painfully, it becomes a limited ritual on the directorís part. The orchestra play superbly, the cellos excel in particular after their opening foray into Rossini, Smetana is given an idiomatically stylish reading, Sibelius is agonised over by Karajan, the two family Strauss works are full of subtle rubato and fine solo wind playing. The programme gives little opportunity for the brass to be unleashed, strange given that there are plenty of them including quadruple trumpets. Karajan is eminently unwatchable as he conducts with his eyes closed, chin on chest and aggressively fly-swatting technique, strange because that is precisely what he wanted us to do after he had gone, watch him at work. Itís much better to listen.

Christopher Fifield


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