MOZART: Divertimento No. 15 in B-flat Major, K. 287; STRAVINSKY: Le Sacre du Printemps – Berlin Philharmonic/Herbert von Karajan – Testament

by | Oct 12, 2009 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

MOZART: Divertimento No. 15 in B-flat Major, K. 287; STRAVINSKY: Le Sacre du Printemps – Berlin Philharmonic/Herbert von Karajan

Testament SBT 1453, 72:16 [Distr. By Harmonia mundi] ****:

Recorded live at the Royal Festival Hall (15 May 1972), the Berlin Philharmonic has its imperious conductor Herbert von Karajan (1908-1989) at the helm, the master of the monumental sound and the seamless stream of melody. Both Arturo Toscanini and his acolyte Guido Cantelli had programmed the Mozart B-flat Divertimento (1777), so it comes as small surprise that Toscanini devotee Karajan would emulate the Italian maestro with a version of his own, also adapting the original six-part scoring for small orchestra.  In six movements, the second proves the most expansive, a Thema mit Variationen: Andante grazioso which urges the strings to ever-extend the melodic line over a spare bass and long notes in the horns. The latter “patter” variations move with an airy facility more in accord with chamber music than a bustling ensemble. Played with all of its repeats the piece itself achieves the length of two modest symphonies, replete with the homogenous sound Karajan patented as his own contribution to orchestral discipline. A sylvan grace marks the Menuetto and Trio, sterling work in the French horns. The second Menuetto and Trio entrances in its galant French taste. The Adagio stands out as the work’s shining moment, its pearly E-flat in the stratosphere unruffled by the ten violins who execute diaphanous trills as one, that “one” likely Michel Schwalbe. The uncanny gloomy sound that ushers in  the concert ante violin for the closing Andante–Allegro molto creates the same tension as any well-crafted operatic scena. The ensuing Allegro dances in gilded light, barely touching the ground, and so providing Rossini with every inspiration for his youthful string sonatas. The level of streamlined execution by Karajan’s BPO warrants every admiration, and the Londoners present at this “Second Lodron Serenade” of Mozart are keen to bestow it.

It was Igor Stravinsky himself who labeled Karajan’s 1964 LP inscription of Le Sacre du Printemps “a pet savage rather than a real one.” Stravinsky, not fond of “rounded edges,” saw the Karajan sensibility as entirely too civilized and contrived. In 1971, the year of the composer’s death, Karajan instituted a modest homage in the form of Stravinsky programming at the BPO, including seven performances of The Rite. This 1972 rendition of the “primitive” score may be seen as an evolution to the famous second inscription for DGG of 1977. Precision and articulate coloration mark the performance from the bassoon’s opening solo, extending quickly into florid triple-tonguing from the BPO trumpets. Despite a penchant for sostenuto, Karajan opts for short, terse phraseology, much in the manner of the composer’s own laconic style. The Dancing Out of the Earth, polyrhythmic and polytonal, elicits the best in the BPO discipline, a spine-tingling realization of visceral power, diatonic asymmetries made “fearful symmetries.” Muted trumpet and diviso strings open Part 2, expertly rendered in hazy gauze by the BPO.  A palpable tension runs through the Dances of the Adolescents, leading to the dissonantly polyrhythmic Election of the Chosen One. The Sacrificial Dance carries the note of doom within its pungent harmonies, the plucked strings rife with savage terror. Fierce attacks, a wicked sense of timing, and stirring velocity suffuse every note. Karajan has given us a program of two opposed sensibilities and musical densities, each carried off with supreme virtuosity.

–Gary Lemco

Related Reviews
Logo Pure Pleasure