Post by FePe
I have been listening lately to Mendelssohn's Symphony no. 3 with
Herbert von Karajan on DG. What distinguishes Karajan as I see it is
his ferocity that you can't find with other conducters. This may have
been discussed many times before (but I'm a newcomer to classical
music). What do you like about Karajan?
"Ferocity"? Some quick tempi, yes, but in the recordings I know (some
100 CDs or so) he tends to be an estethe rather than an ecstatic...
That said, his sound amazes me. Many criticize it for being not
transparent and heavy, and it is certainly true that the loved making
it all a big cloud of sound. But why not, it can be very enjoyable from
time to time.
I have all his Mendelssohn symphonies, but I simply cannot stand them
anymore for some atrocious playing and singing. The choir on the
Lobgesang is worse than my English allows me to express - even worse
than the Wiener Singverein in his worst days. Those sopranos - had they
sent them to Jericho the walls would have evaporated into dust. And
right at the beginning of this symphony the horns come in with a very
approximate rendering of their important motif. Same holds true for my
favourite Mendelsshon symphonie, no. 5 "Reformation". I certainly like
Karajan's basic approach, but it's simply played inadequately.
Nevertheless, there are many invaluable recordings he left us - his
Ring (warts and all), his VPO Bruckner VII, his VPO video Bruckner IX
(1977 IIRC), the Wagner VPO chunks disc with Jessye Norman, his higly
idiosyncratic 1988 BPO Brahms IV (VERY strange, but fascinating -
almost Mengelbergian in some places)...
At least, he had a clear concept, and he cared a lot about the quality
of the sound the orchestra produced. One may disagree about the value
of what resulted, but I find it certainly worthwile to explore his
recordings - and I take Karajans bad-intonation shaky-ensemble 1970s
Beethoven cycle at any time over Rattle's VPO effort or any Beethoven I
heard from Maazel.
OTOH, much that was important to him, sound and technical brilliance,
have now been bettered enormously as well with respect to orchestral
technical standards as with the quality of recordings. Which takes away
much of the luster around his BPO and him at the height of their glory.
And other conductors with recordings and orchestras in much worse
technical conditions aimed at other things in their interpretations
which lose less through the technical progress since their time -
Furtwängler as a prime example.