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It's funny how when someone is far and away the best at something people instantly try to find ways to rubbish them. Herbert von Karajan was easily the best conductor of last century - probably ever. Certainly he's the best one who ended up on records. Yet people are determined to defame him. If they can't show that he wasn't actually that good as a conductor then they turn to his involvement with the Nazi party. For some reason, it seems, he was a lesser composer if he wasn't a nice person. Well obviously he wasn't a nice person. Just watch a video of him in rehearsal. He bullied the snot out of some of the world's finest soloists in front of the whole orchestra. But he had a genius for interpreting music, and knowing exactly what potential a passage had. He knew exactly what he wanted, and, when an orchestra finally satisfied him, they appreciated why he had been so insistent that it sound how he imagined it. Sometimes he would do hundreds of takes and noone could understand just what he was waiting for, but then he would declare himself happy with a take, and the magic would be evident. Noone can be the best interpreter of everything, but Karajan's achievement was to be the best across a huge range of music. His late Romantic interpretations, such as Bruckner and Mahler are simply phenomenal. His Beethoven Symphonies are legendary. And I love his interpretations of 20th Century music, although not all composers were happy with him; Stravinsky said his Rite of Spring was too smooth. Those who rubbish Karajan are simply being pretentious and snobby. He was, quite simply, the best.
He is one of the very best conductors in the 20th century, I would say. Even though I have never had a chance of listening to his concert live in a concert hall or very the broadcast, but, I have a collection of his CDs. I have never know how to appreciate classical music before, till I listen to his music. He can some how lead the orchestra team to 'explicitly' and accurately express the composers' works and have the influences in the audience. He also give me an insight on how to listen, enjoy and appreciate orchestra work, which I don't think I will ever have if I never listen to him. In one word, he is very impressive!
Herbert von Karajan perfectly embodied the public's image of the archetypal conductor. Head held haughtily high, eyes closed, swaying gently in time to the always-beautiful strings of his Berlin Philharmonic orchestra, he always let there be no doubt that he was in complete control at all times. In my view, he played rather too safe, usually keeping the Berlin Phil's repertoire safely within the "core repertoire" of the big romantic symphonies, and he seldom strayed successfully into the realms of the more jazz-influenced 20th century composers. Still, within that romantic area, he produced some beautiful recordings: highlights for me are his symphony recordings of Shostakovich 10, Bruckner 8, Mahler 9 and the cycle of Beethoven symphonies he recorded in 1977. He always embraced technology (which to me seems curious, considering his preference for big romantic music!), and had his own recording complex with state of the art sound- and video-recording equipment. He led the way in releasing his own videos of him conducting the Berlin Philharmonic, and carefully drilled the string players to move their bows in perfect visual synchronisation, for the dramatic visual effect this would produce on the video! If the above makes him sound like nothing but a talented control freak, in fact he deeply loved music. He led a playboy lifestyle, with a taste for fast motor vehicles, but at the end of the day it always came back to music, and I've nothing but respect for anyone for whom that's the case. Yes, his performances often erred on the side of the over-romantic, with sometimes excessively saccharine string sound, but when the occasion demanded it (as in the second movement of Shostakovich 10), he could crank up the energy level to generate tremendous excitement, and his 1977 Beethoven 9 (Choral) has, for me, the most thrilling finale of that symphony ever recorded. It's hard to feel any affection for the old Nazi (and that's not just name-calling - he was a card-carrying member of the Nazi party from 1935), and he certainly had his limitations, but certainly in the romantic symphonic repertoire, it's always well-worth checking out his recordings.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 1. Mars, the Bringer of War
2 2. Venus, the Bringer of Peace
3 3. Mercury, the Winged Messenger
4 4. Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity
5 5. Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age
6 6. Uranus, the Magician
7 7. Neptune, the Mystic - Berliner Philharmoniker, Herbert von Karajan, RIAS Kammerchor, Uwe Gronostay