Opus Kura 7032 , 73:51 (Distrib. Albany) ****:
Vintage recordings from EMI 1954-1955 with the immaculate Philharmonia Orchestra of London under Herbert von Karajan (1908-1989). The level of ensemble and linear realization is never less than polished glass in music, a stunning tribute to a homogeneous, aesthetic concept that almost defies emotional involvement. The ever-amazing Dennis Brain fills in at both French horn as well as providing the organ obbligato in Mascagni’s vivid intermezzo from Rustic Chivalry. The intermezzo from L’Amico Fritz conveys a dark, declamatory power mixed with unabashed nostalgia. The Hary Janos excerpt, with cimbalom to answer Brain’s horn trills, impresses us with the smoothness of transitions and seamless crescendi; never a ruffle in a Karajan patina. The Verdi intermezzo in hushed motion gradually achieves a contrived, luminous aura that lies somewhere between Toscanini’s poise and De Sabata’s mysticism.
Manoug Parikian, concertmaster, plays the sweet Mediation from Thais with impeccable delicacy over harp and string pedals. The Moussorgsky moment may not exhibit the same dramatic furor Stokowski draws from the score, but the rhythmic give and take from the divided strings and tympani keeps us spellbound. For the elegance of the Philharmonia cello line, try the frenzied Puccini Manon Lescaut Intermezzo and the haunting strains of Granados’ Goyescas, the latter of which allows the Philharmonia brass their moment of shimmering spectacle. Tambourine and oboe flavor the Carmen intermezzo’s habanera rhythm, the upper strings dancing en pointe. The several overtures testify to more streamlined discipline, including ferocious agitation in The Gypsy Baron and fierce execution in the upper woodwinds without losing one Viennese beat. The opening and closing music, Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, and the Strauss perennial favorite Overture to Der Fledermaus, alternately bespeak a ravishing ingenuousness and a canny sense of propulsion, both of which could define Karajan’s career as well as his capacity to make music efficiently.
— Gary Lemco