April 30, 2014

Karajan continued: three more boxed sets released in Official Remastered Edition

The famed Abbey Road studios shine new light on Karajan’s genius in German, Russian and choral masterpieces.

Just a few years after the conductor Herbert von Karajan signed with EMI in 1946, Long Play records appeared. “There began a recording activity that came upon us like an intoxication. It was the second, the great period of the gramophone,” said the maestro.

Warner Classics has harnessed today’s most advanced sound technology at the world’s most famous recording studios on Abbey Road in London to capture the white-hot intensity and perfectionism of that “intoxication” in previously undreamed of clarity. Entrusted with the legacy of Karajan’s iconic recordings for EMI (comprising about 50% of his total discography and spanning four decades from 1946 to 1984), Warner Classics embarked on its Karajan Official Remastered Edition, which releases its fourth, fifth and sixth volumes today in three deluxe boxed sets.

The 13-CD German Music collection (1951–1960) represents the heartland of Karajan’s repertoire as the maestro helms the Philharmonia and Berlin Philharmonic in Austro-German Romantic orchestral music. Mozart’s Symphony No.39 and Brahms’s Haydn Variations are published in STEREO here for the very first time, after the discovery of the original stereo tapes earlier this year.

Karajan Russian Music

To Russia via Salzburg, the 7-CD Russian Music (1949–60) includes the great Bulgarian bass Boris Christoff in an aria from Boris Godunov, as well as Peter Ustinov’s charming narration of Peter and the Wolf by Prokofiev.

Among the jewels in the 5-CD Choral Music box (1947–58), Karajan had famously rearranged the order of Strauss’s Four Last Songs with soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, so that the cycle draws to a close with the elegiac horn solo of September played by Dennis Brain. The 1952 recording of Bach’s Mass in B Minor features Schwarzkopf (who was to marry Karajan’s EMI producer Walter Legge the following year) as well as tenor Nicolai Gedda.

The first three sets (Beethoven symphonies, Soloists and the Vienna Philharmonic) were released at the end of March to great acclaim. “I know of no interpreter so consistent in his achievements in the studio as Karajan… The music-making is exceptional, a tribute to Legge’s determination and Karajan’s genius,” said the Mail on Sunday reviewer of the five-star Beethoven box. “Musical history at its best,” declared the Nürnberger Nachrichten, while Opera Lounge put it simply: “Mein Gott, wie schön das klingt!(God that sounds good!)

There are seven more boxed sets to come, totalling 100 discs and leading up to the 25th anniversary of Karajan’s death in July. All remastered in  24-bit/96kHz at Abbey Road. See the full series here.