Karajan in Hollywood = WAGNER: Overture to Die Meistersinger; IVES: The Unanswered Question; MOZART: Symphony No. 35 in D Major, K. 485 “Haffner”; R. STRAUSS: Ein Heldenleben – Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan – Pristine Audio

by | Jun 26, 2010 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Karajan in Hollywood = WAGNER: Overture to Die Meistersinger; IVES: The Unanswered Question; MOZART: Symphony No. 35 in D Major, K. 485 “Haffner”; R. STRAUSS: Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40 – Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan

Pristine Audio PASC 227, 79:29 [avail. in var. formats at www.pristineclassical.com] ****:

The Los Angeles Philharmonic audience of 2 July 1959 welcomed Herbert von Karajan (1908-1989) to their orchestra’s podium, and an anonymous private collector has granted producer and engineer Andrew Rose access to his radio broadcast recording. After a rousing version of The Star-Spangled Banner, Karajan launches into a craftsman’s Overture to Die Meistersinger, the processional grandly lyric and polyphonic, the long lines tailored to Karajan’s typically seamless rounded edges. Despite Karajan’s cool, sangfroid demeanor before an orchestra, he has a warm ensemble before him, and their playful interchanges in the woodwinds and trilled strings assumes a refulgent spectrum of colors, albeit in compressed monaural sound.

Making its Los Angeles Philharmonic debut under Karajan is The Unanswered Question (1906) by Charles Ives. [Quite a surprise!…Ed.]  Subtitled “a cosmic landscape,” the piece is one of Two Contemplations–its companion is Central Park in the Dark–in which a constant G Major string pedal provides background for a trumpets’ seven discordant attempts to elucidate a response or change, in league with a choir of woodwinds, each proceeding at its own speed. “The Silence of the Druids” is Ives’s characterization of the string group, a tonal layer assaulted by an atonal query. Leonard Bernstein felt that the question being posed is “Whither Music?” but given the tenor of the  20th Century, it might well be “Whither Mankind?”

A quick tonic to Ives’s unnerving miniature comes in the form of Mozart’s virile sturm und drang Haffner Symphony, played with efficient gusto and energized brio by the LA Philharmonic and their honored guest. This Haffner remains relatively modest in scale, a model of textural clarity and nervous brio, a true child of its godfather, C.P.E. Bach. The Andante moves briskly but not at the expense of the lyricism and polished intricacy of its stately dance. The Menuet enjoys the pomp and ceremony of outdoor cassation music. However rustic in nature the trio may have been, with Mozart’s touch it takes on an aristocratic life of its own. The Presto savors its buoyant, hectic energy, a buffa romp well in the spirit of The Abduction of the Seraglio, without the oriental panoply. 
Karajan’s piece de resistance–as it had been in New York 15 November 1958–takes the form of grandiloquent self-promotion in Richard Strauss, his A Hero’s Life, featuring concertmaster David Frisina in the auxiliary role of The Hero’s Helpmeet, Pauline Strauss, to be exact. The extended linear approach to this vast canvas bestows a firm sense of architecture on the whole, so the arching sonata-form emerges, and the recapitulation of The Hero’s Works of Peace becomes a logical summing up and apotheosis of all prior materials in this bloated symphonic poem. Whether the allusions and absorption of motifs from Beethoven’s Eroica justifies or further inflates the grand ego of this score is a matter of aesthetic taste. But as both a lyrically epic journey and an exercise in virtuoso collaboration on a massive scale, the Karajan myth in Los Angeles reverberates ever as strongly as it had in Salzburg and Berlin.   

— Gary Lemco

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