STRAUSS: Don Juan, Op. 20; Till Eulenspiegel, Op. 28; Death and Transfiguration, Op. 24; WAGNER: Tannhauser–Venusberg Music — Philharmonia Orchestra/ Herbert von Karajan — Testament

by | Sep 8, 2005 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

R. STRAUSS: Don Juan, Op. 20; Till Eulenspiegel, Op. 28; Death and
Transfiguration, Op. 24; WAGNER: Tannhauser–Venusberg Music —
Philharmonia Orchestra/ Herbert von Karajan

Testament SBT 1383 mono  73:35 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi) ****:

While EMI institutes its own revival of the early inscriptions by
Herbert von Karajan (1908-1989) and the Philarmonia of London, the
orchestra founded by producer Walter Legge (who wished almost at the
outset to acquire Karajan as its conductor) Testament, too, dips into
the archives for high-voltage inscriptions made 1951-1954. 
Karajan first made his debut with the Philharmonia in 1948, appearing
with Dinu Lipatti in the Schumann Piano Concerto, the Strauss Don Juan
, and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The musicians sensed immediately an
aura about Karajan, a charismatic personality who allowed the
individual players to project their own sound even as they melded into
a unified ensemble. “Precision balanced with a certain astringency,”
violinist Hugh Bean put it to describe the Karajan influence. The
fruitful association would last twelve years, until 1960.  By the
time Karajan had honed the Berlin Philharmonic according to his own
persona, the astringency would disappear, to be replaced by an
overripe, seamless sinuousness. But the Philharmonia has a tonal bite
that keeps the musical tension palpable.

Assembling the big three Richard Strauss tonepoems on one record is old
news: EMI had done the same for its Seraphim issue of Furtwaengler’s
LP. But Karajan, for all the objective distance in his music-making,
elicits brilliant string work from his orchestra, led at the time by
Manoug Parikian. Hugh Bean ascribed the string sheen to Karajan’s fluid
stick technique, “which never stopped moving, but simply flowed over
us.”  Don Juan (4 December 1951), of course, is nothing if not a
tour de force for symphony winds and brass, and Jack Thurston’s
clarinet, Sidney Sutcliffe’s oboe, and Dennis Brain’s horn make their
inimitable presence known. The Death and Transfiguration is a broad
interpretation, (3 July 1953), plastic and sympathetic in details,
alternately feverish and nostalgic, culminating in an extended passing
into the next world. The acerbic wit and shimmering ensemble work is
rife in Till Eulespeigel (4 December 1951), where even the final
pizzicato chord sends a resounding thud that amuses and horrifies at
once.  The Wagner Venusberg Music (7 October 1954) was created
under the auspices of an album entitled Ballet Music from the Opera,
and captures Karajan in a superheated moment, realizing the contention
of matter with spirit, the referent pilgrim in battle with the
sybarite. At the time the recording was made, oboe Sidney Sutcliffe
remarked that Karajan was “completely sent.” Send yourself a copy of
this one.

–Gary Lemco

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