Herbert von Karajan conducts the New York Philharmonic!
Second of three volumes chronicling his only appearances with the orchestra
Recorded live at Carnegie Hall, New York City
"Herbert von Karajan showed yesterday at Carnegie Hall that he could conduct with tension and virility. In dealing with the first and last symphonies of Beethoven he proved that he could combine an awareness of tradition with a strong feeling of personal involvement.
This was, for the most past, Beethoven brimming with vitality and passion. The New York Philharmonic gave Mr. von Karajan playing that had delicacy and muscularity, tenderness and power. It was a supple, responsive instrument. It cooperated with the conductor at every turn. It enabled him to prove that he was a Beethoven interpreter of character..."Howard Taubman, New York Times, from Concert Review, 22nd November 1958
Full review available from New York Times archiveReview of this release: Audiophile Audition
Notes on the recordings:
"Herbert von Karajan (5 April 1908 – 16 July 1989) was an Austrian orchestra and opera conductor. His obituary in The New York Times described him as "probably the world's best-known conductor and one of the most powerful figures in classical music". Karajan conducted the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra for 35 years. He is the top-selling classical music recording artist of all time, having sold an estimated 200 million records during his career." - Wikipedia
Despite his lengthy and varied career, Karajan was predominantly a Europe-based conductor and rarely conducted American orchestras - in 169 concerts in the USA he conducted only three orchestras: the Los Angeles Philharmonic once (1959), the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra fifteen times (1967-69), and the New York Philharmonic eight times in November, 1958. His only other engagements with an American orchestra were two concerts with the Cleveland Orchestra in Salzburg and Lucerne during August 1967.
The New York Philharmonic concerts were split into two groups of four: The first concerts, of 13-16 November 1958, consisted of three works: Webern's Five Pieces for String Orchestra, Mozart's "Jupiter" Symphony, No. 41, and Richard Strauss's Ein Heldenleben. A week later, between 20th and 23rd November, Karajan played an all-Beethoven programme, beginning with the First Symphony and ending with the Ninth - in the case of the Ninth "Choral" Symphony these constituted four of ten performances the conductor gave of this work in 1958 alone - three with the Berlin and three with the Vienna Philharmonics complete the total.
Each group of four New York Philharmonic concerts received a radio broadcast - in each case it was the third of the four concerts, held on Saturday evenings, which was broadcast on the CBS radio network. At the present time the only surviving recordings of these concerts appear to have been taken from AM broadcasts. Although the quality, both of the recordings and the transmissions themselves is very good, they are inevitably diminished by the limited bandwidth and dynamic range of this broadcast medium.
As a result there is no recorded signal above about 6kHz, and at times some of the very loudest passages sound somewhat compressed in volume. However, with such obvious interest in these rare recordings, made by such top rank musicians, it was clear that they could not be ignored, and we were delighted to be sent excellent source copies by an American collector. Restoration has revolved around minimising hiss, dealing with very occasional light drop-out, the odd click and crackle, and one short instance of line whistle. Thereafter the XR remastering process has been used in order to ty and extract the very best sound quality possible from this compromised source material. Although the results would be considered fine for a recording of earlier years it's clearly not up to the standards one normally expects of 1958 technology, hence the designation "Special Interest" for this release.
P.S. Following the release of the first volume in this series I received the following in an e-mail from a regular contributor: "Why are you releasing these as "SI", though? The sound is not that bad -- decent AM radio quality". He's right - in many respects the sound quality is excellent, with very low levels of background noise, an excellent signal, and a very clear recording. Certainly the recordings make for an enjoyable listening experience. But I do think that it would be easy to miss the small print pointing out that this is an AM radio broadcast and assume full-frequency 1958-quality sound if we didn't highlight the fact prominently, something which might not suit some purchasers. The idea of SI releases is to encourage listening and reading prior to purchase!
Full Webern biography: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anton_Webern
Full Mozart biography: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolfgang_Amadeus_Mozart
Full Beethoven biography: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludwig_van_Beethoven
Herbert von Karajan
Biographical notes from Wikipedia
|Herbert von Karajan in 1938|
Herbert von Karajan (5 April 1908 – 16 July 1989) was an Austrian orchestra and opera conductor. His obituary in The New York Times described him as "probably the world's best-known conductor and one of the most powerful figures in classical music". Karajan conducted the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra for 35 years. He is the top-selling classical music recording artist of all time, having sold an estimated 200 million records during his career.
Herbert von Karajan was the son of an upper-middle class Salzburg family. The Karajans are said to have originally been Aromanian, or Greek, from the region of Macedonia. His great-great-grandfather, Geòrgios Johannes Karajànnis, was born in Kozani, a town in the Ottoman province of Rumelia (present West Macedonia in Greece), leaving for Vienna in 1767, and eventually Chemnitz, Saxony. He and his brother participated in the establishment of Saxony's cloth industry, and both were ennobled for their services by Frederick Augustus III on 1 June 1792, thus the prefix "von" to the family name. The surname Karajànnis became Karajan. Herbert's family from the maternal side, through his grandfather who was born in the village of Mojstrana, Duchy of Carniola (today in Slovenia), had Slovene origins according to a modern genealogical research, thus contrasting with or clarifying the traditional view which expressed a Serbian or simply a Slavic origin of his mother.
Karajan was born in Salzburg, Austria-Hungary, as Herbert Ritter von Karajan. He was a child prodigy at the piano. From 1916 to 1926, he studied at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, where he was encouraged to concentrate on conducting by his teacher, who detected his exceptional promise in that regard.
In 1929, he conducted Salome at the Festspielhaus in Salzburg and from 1929 to 1934 Karajan served as first Kapellmeister at the Stadttheater in Ulm. In 1933 Karajan made his conducting debut at the Salzburg Festival with the Walpurgisnacht Scene in Max Reinhardt's production of Faust. It was also in 1933 that von Karajan became a member of the Nazi party, a fact for which he would later be criticised. 
Karajan's career was given a significant boost in 1935 when he was appointed Germany's youngest Generalmusikdirektor and performed as a guest conductor in Bucharest, Brussels, Stockholm, Amsterdam and Paris  . In 1937 Karajan made his debut with the Berlin Philharmonic and the Berlin State Opera, conducting Fidelio. He then enjoyed a major success at the State Opera with Tristan und Isolde. In 1938, his performance there of the opera was hailed by a Berlin critic as Das Wunder Karajan (The Karajan miracle). The critic asserted that Karajan's "success with Wagner's demanding work Tristan und Isolde sets himself alongside Furtwängler and de Sabata, the greatest opera conductors in Germany at the present time". Receiving a contract with Deutsche Grammophon that same year, Karajan made the first of numerous recordings by conducting the Staatskapelle Berlin in the overture to Die Zauberflöte. On July 26, 1938, he married his first wife, operetta singer Elmy Holgerloef. They would divorce in 1942.
On 22 October 1942, at the height of the war, Karajan married his second wife, Anna Maria "Anita" Sauest, born Gütermann. She was the daughter of a well-known manufacturer of yarn for sewing machines. Having had a Jewish grandfather, she was considered Vierteljüdin (one-quarter Jewish). By 1944, Karajan was, according to his own account, losing favor with the Nazi leadership; but he still conducted concerts in wartime Berlin on 18 February 1945 and fled Germany with Anita for Milan a short time later. Karajan and Anita divorced in 1958.
In the closing stages of the war, Karajan relocated his family to Italy with the assistance of Victor de Sabata. Karajan was discharged by the Austrian denazification examining board on 18 March 1946, and resumed his conducting career shortly thereafter.
In 1946, Karajan gave his first post-war concert in Vienna with the Vienna Philharmonic but he was banned from further conducting activities by the Soviet occupation authorities because of his Nazi party membership. That summer he participated anonymously in the Salzburg Festival. The following year he was allowed to resume conducting.
In 1949, Karajan became artistic director of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, Vienna. He also conducted at La Scala in Milan. His most prominent activity at this time was recording with the newly-formed Philharmonia Orchestra in London, helping to build them into one of the world's finest. Starting from this year, Karajan began his lifelong attendance at the Lucerne Festival.
In 1951 and 1952 he conducted at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus.
In 1955 he was appointed music director for life of the Berlin Philharmonic as successor to Wilhelm Furtwängler. From 1957 to 1964 he was artistic director of the Vienna State Opera. Karajan was closely involved with the Vienna Philharmonic and the Salzburg Festival, where he initiated the Easter Festival, which would remain tied to the Berlin Philharmonic's Music Director after his tenure.
On 22 October 1958 he married his third wife, French model Eliette Mouret; they became parents of two daughters, Isabel and Arabel.
Karajan and the compact disc
Karajan played an important role in the development of the original compact disc digital audio format. He championed this new consumer playback technology, lent his prestige to it and appeared at the first press conference announcing the format. The maximum playing time of CD prototypes was sixty minutes but the final specification enlarged the disc size and extended the capacity to seventy-four minutes. There are various stories regarding this, one of which is that this was due to Karajan's insistence that the format have sufficient capacity to contain Beethoven's Ninth Symphony on a single disc.. Kees Schouhamer Immink, a Philips research engineer and fellow of the Audio Engineering Society, denies the Beethoven connection.
Through the 1980s von Karajan re-recorded many works such as Beethoven's Nine Symphonies with Deutsche Grammophon's CD booklet introduction saying that he wanted to preserve his legacy digitally. He also pioneered the Digital Compact Cassette though that format was not particularly successful.
Karajan joined the Nazi Party in Salzburg on 8 April 1933; his membership number was 1,607,525. In June the Nazi Party was outlawed by the Austrian government. However, Karajan's membership was valid until 1939. In this year the former Austrian members were verified by the general office of the Nazi Party. Karajan's membership was declared invalid but his accession to the party was retroactively determined to have been on 1 May 1933 in Ulm, with membership number: 3,430,914.
Karajan's membership of the Nazi Party and increasingly prominent career in Germany from 1933 to 1945 cast him in an uncomplimentary light after the war[who?]. While Karajan's defenders[who?] have argued that he joined the Nazis only to advance his music career, critics such as Jim Svejda have pointed out that other prominent conductors, such as Otto Klemperer, Erich Kleiber and Arturo Toscanini, fled from fascist Europe at the time.
British music critic Richard Osborne counters this thesis by noting that among the many significant conductors who continued to work in Germany throughout the war years— including: Wilhelm Furtwängler; Ernest Ansermet; Carl Schuricht; Karl Böhm; Hans Knappertsbusch; Clemens Krauss and Karl Elmendorff—Karajan was one of the youngest and thus one of the least advanced in his career.
There is widespread agreement that Herbert von Karajan had a special gift for extracting beautiful sounds from an orchestra. Opinion varies concerning the greater aesthetic ends to which The Karajan Sound was applied. The American critic Harvey Sachs criticized the Karajan approach as follows:
Karajan seemed to have opted instead for an all-purpose, highly refined, lacquered, calculatedly voluptuous sound that could be applied, with the stylistic modifications he deemed appropriate, to Bach and Puccini, Mozart and Mahler, Beethoven and Wagner, Schumann and Stravinsky... many of his performances had a prefabricated, artificial quality that those of Toscanini, Furtwängler, and others never had... most of Karajan's records are exaggeratedly polished, a sort of sonic counterpart to the films and photographs of Leni Riefenstahl.
Two reviews from the Penguin Guide to Compact Discs can be quoted to illustrate the point.
Concerning a recording of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, a canonical Romantic work, the Penguin authors wrote "Karajan's is a sensual performance of Wagner's masterpiece, caressingly beautiful and with superbly refined playing from the Berlin Philharmonic" and it is listed in first place on pages 1586-7 of the 1999 Penguin Guide to Compact Discs; 2005, p1477.
About Karajan's recording of Haydn's "Paris" symphonies, the same authors wrote, "big-band Haydn with a vengeance ... It goes without saying that the quality of the orchestral playing is superb. However, these are heavy-handed accounts, closer to Imperial Berlin than to Paris ... the Minuets are very slow indeed ... These performances are too charmless and wanting in grace to be whole-heartedly recommended."
The same Penguin Guide does nevertheless give the highest compliments to Karajan's recordings of the selfsame Haydn's two oratorios, The Creation and The Seasons. It must also be stated that no less a respected Haydn scholar than H.C. Robbins Landon wrote the notes for Karajan's recordings of Haydn's 12 London Symphonies and states clearly that Karajan's recordings are among the finest he knows.
Regarding twentieth century music, Karajan had a strong preference for conducting and recording pre-1945 works (Mahler, Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Bartók, Sibelius, Richard Strauss, Puccini, Ildebrando Pizzetti, Arthur Honegger, Prokofiev, Debussy, Ravel, Paul Hindemith, Carl Nielsen and Stravinsky), but also did record Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10 (1953) twice and did premiere Carl Orff's "De Temporum Fine Comoedia" in 1973.
Awards and Honours
Karajan was the recipient of multiple honours and awards. On 21 June 1978 he received the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Music from Oxford University. He was honored by the "Médaille de Vermeil" in Paris, the Gold Medal of the Royal Philharmonic Society in London, the Olympia Award of the Onassis Foundation in Athens and the UNESCO International Music Prize. He received two Gramophone Awards for recordings of Mahler's Ninth Symphony and the complete Parsifal recordings in 1981. In 2002, the Herbert von Karajan Music Prize was founded in his honour; in 2003 Anne-Sophie Mutter who had made her debut with Karajan in 1977, became the first recipient of this award.
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