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Karajan in Concert [1973-78] von Herbert von…
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Karajan in Concert [1973-78] (2008. Auflage)

von Herbert von Karajan (conductor), Alexis Weissenberg (piano), Berliner Philharmoniker (orchestra)

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Titel:Karajan in Concert [1973-78]
Autoren:Herbert von Karajan (conductor)
Weitere Autoren:Alexis Weissenberg (piano), Berliner Philharmoniker (orchestra)
Info:Unitel/DG, 2008. 2DVD. 93’22+113’16. Colour. NTSC 4:3. PCM Stereo / DTS 5.1. Liner notes by Richard Osborne. Bonus documentary: Karajan – Impressions by Vojtěch Jasný.
Tags:Karajan_DVD, Rachmaninoff_DVD, Ravel_DVD, Debussy_DVD, Beethoven_DVD, Rach_2


Karajan in Concert: Rachmaninoff, Ravel, Debussy, Beethoven, Rossini, Wagner von Herbert von Karajan

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Karajan in Concert


[1] Opening credits
[2] Beethoven: Coriolan Overture [9’28]
[3] Opening credits
[4] Beethoven: Egmont Overture [9’15]
[5] Opening credits
[6] Rossini: Wilhelm Tell Overture [12’52]
[7] Opening credits
[8] Wagner: Tannhäuser Overture [14’56]
[9] Opening credits
[10] Weber: Der Freischütz Overture [10’47]

Debussy: La mer
[11] Opening credits
[12] I. De l’aube à midi sur la mer [9’09]
[13] II. Jeux de vagues [6’47]
[14] III. Dialogue du vent et de la mer [8’43]

[15] Opening credits
[16] Debussy: Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune [10’44]


Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18

[1] Opening credits
[2] I. Moderato [11’32]
[3] II. Adagio sostenuto [13’15]
[4] III. Allegro scherzando [11’47]

Ravel: Daphnis et Chloe, Suite No. 2
[5] Opening credits
[6] I. Lever du jour [5’24]
[7] II. Pantomime [6’03]
[8] III. Danse générale [4’29]

Bonus: Karajan – Impressions by Vojtěch Jasný [59’39]

Alexis Weissenberg, piano
Berliner Philharmoniker
Herbert von Karajan

Recorded: 10-11 September 1973 (Rachmaninoff), 21-22 January 1975 (Overtures) & 14-15 February 1978 (Ravel, Debussy), Philharmonie, Berlin.

Unitel/DG, 2008. 2DVD. 93’22+113’16. Colour. NTSC 4:3. PCM Stereo / DTS 5.1. Liner notes by Richard Osborne.


The words “in concert” usually denote a live performance, or at least a composite recording compiled from several life performances, perhaps a few rehearsals as well. This doesn’t seem to be the case with the five overtures on the first DVD. No live performances of them in January 1975 are listed in John Hunt’s concert register. If this resource is accurate, Karajan stopped conducting live some of these works years before, for instance Egmont in 1961. Mr Hunt’s discography does list all five overtures as released on VHS and laserdisc, but no more specific recording dates are given than the year 1975. All this is suggesting studio recordings; certain shots of strings or woodwinds arranged in ways unlikely to be seen in the concert hall confirm this. Applause can be heard in the beginning and in the end, and an audience can be seen in the background; but it might have the polite applause of an invited audience for what were, in effect, recording sessions.

The same is probably true of the Rachmaninoff concerto. The recording is listed in Mr Hunt’s discography with an exact date, 26 September 1973, but no concert performance on that date is given in the concert register. If Mr Hunt is to be believed, the only time Karajan and Weissenberg performed Rachmaninoff’s Second Concerto was exactly one year earlier, on 26 September 1972, namely around the same time they made their tremendous studio recording for EMI. In any case, the Concerto, even more than the overtures, looks like a studio production with an invited audience. There are some shots that must have been done in separate sessions.

No matter! Whatever the circumstances of recording, the final results are the only thing that matters. And the final results here are beyond comparison with anything except Karajan’s other recordings of the same works. Sometimes even they cannot really compete. The Beethoven overtures fall in this category. Karajan recorded them three times more (1953 with Philhamornia and twice with the Berliners, 1965/69 and 1985), but he never achieved such level of ferocity again. If Egmont is merely frightening, Coriolan is downright terrifying. Both performances are constantly on the verge of lapsing into chaos usually associated with the end of the universe. But, of course, they never do. Even in his most fierce and apocalyptic moments, Karajan keeps everything under perfect control. I can’t help feeling Beethoven would have enjoyed greatly these performances.

Wagner and Weber are not that indispensable. There is no shortage of magnificent audio recordings (DG, 1972 & 1987) or even video rarities (New Year’s Concert 1985; Salzburg, 1987) in Karajan’s vast disco- and videography. But these 1975 versions sound as well as anything, and visually are more stirring than the later renditions. It’s quite a thrill to see the Pilgrims from Tannhäuser marching under the massive and monumental, yet never stodgy or blatantly brassy, sound of six trombones. It’s easy to accuse Karajan’s of instrumental megalomania, if one believes one’s eyes only. But when you also hear the sound, then and only then can you appreciate the rationale behind this apparently senseless multiplication. It’s not about power at all. It’s the weight that matters. With the possible exception of Wagner’s dreams, Wagner’s music has never been played like that.

My only disappointment is the sound in Rossini and Rachmaninoff. The dynamic range in the William Tell Overture is certainly not what it should be. Perhaps I’m prejudiced because I happen to consider Karajan’s studio recording with the Berliners (DG, 1971) one of the greatest musical achievements of all time. As with Beethoven’s overtures, Karajan surpassed himself, only this time he did it without the benefit of picture. William Tell was included in Karajan’s first conducting appearance ever, on 17 December 1928, but strangely enough he conducted it just three times more in the course of more than 60 years career. The first was on 1 January 1979 when the overture was included as a “bonus track” to the New Year’s Concert for 1978; alas, the program from 31 December released on video doesn’t have it. The last two were part of the New Year’s Concert 1983, and that performance is superior in sound, if not in concept, to the studio version from 1975.

As for the Rachmaninoff Concerto, stupendous performance by Weissenberg and Karajan is undermined by an extraordinarily flat and arid sound. The piano is especially hideous! Certainly, no concert grand has ever had such thin and brittle tone without the criminal intervention of recording engineers. The orchestra isn’t much better in terms of either sonority or dynamics. Compared to the sumptuous magnificence and the vast dynamic range of the studio recording, this video production sounds desiccated almost beyond endurance. The picture quality is stellar and Karajan’s direction imaginative. The performance is a lovely thing to see. What would it have been with the right sound! What it must have been live in the Berlin Philharmonie!

The bonus documentary is also included on the New Year’s Concert 1978 DVD, where I have briefly discussed it. The Ravel and Debussy warhorses are true live performances, presumably compiled from three concerts in Berlin on 14, 15 and 16 February 1978, but they are not notably superior to the studio production from 1986. Karajan loved both works, conducted each of them some 50 times in the course of 50 years or so, and always imbued them not only with vivid colours and breathtaking virtuosity but also with propulsive urgency sadly missed by many conductors. So is the case here, and the visual dimension again makes the experience more unforgettable than any audio version possibly can. To truly appreciate the complexity and subtlety of Ravel and Debussy, one should see their orchestral masterpieces performed and filmed by Karajan. I do prefer watching the 1986 versions, but those from 1978 are different rather than inferior and do sound better. ( )
  Waldstein | Aug 6, 2022 |
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