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Reviewed, Not Necessarily Recommended: Karajan in Salzburg, 1957

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Bruckner (Sy.8), Mozart (Sys.35, 41, PC.21), Brahms (German Requiem), T.Berger (Sinfonia parabolica), Von Einem (PC.1), Honegger (Sy.3), Orchestral Concerts from the 1957 Salzburg Festival, H.v.Karajan / BPh, WPh
ORFEO 773084, mono (4 CDs: 298:21)
On paper, the item that stands out in Orfeo’s box of the 1957 Salzburg Festival concerts under Herbert von Karajan would be Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony recorded with the Vienna Philharmonic, the accumulation of a spring and summer Karajan spent with this symphony. He had played this work (with which he had already inaugurated his post-deNazification return to the concert platform in 1949) with the VPO in concerts at the Musikverein in April (available on Andante 4996); he recorded it with the BPO for EMI a few weeks later. On July 28, he played it—as always (?) in the Haas edition—at the Festspielhaus in Salzburg with the VPO again. The press was writing hymns at the time, but half a century later it’s difficult to hear through the dated sounds what was so special about the VPO’s playing—especially its otherwise soft-hued brass—which isn’t anywhere near modern-day demands of perfectionism. The interpretation is straightforward, swift, and completely different from the Berlin studio recording of a few weeks before. The timings—81 minutes in Salzburg (conveniently fitting on one CD) and 87 minutes in Berlin—are telling. Even among Karajan recordings of this Symphony, this has a tough stand. I find the EMI recording far more compelling, and Karajan’s last VPO recording (DG) better still.

The next disc comes from the following day, when Karajan switched orchestras and played an all-Mozart program with the Berlin Philharmonic. A repeat-free, 17-minute long, rumbling “Haffner” Symphony is over before it starts; Géza Anda plays through the C-Major Concerto, K 467, in his nimble, no nonsense way, but with a startlingly wrong note in a chord toward the end of the Allegro vivace assai. Nothing that can’t be better had elsewhere, even with the same performers (Karajan with Lipatti, Anda with the Camerata Salzburg).

The same might be said for the Brahms Requiem that was caught on tape at the Felsenreitschule on the 22nd of August. There are, after all, many great recordings available. Three with Berlin and with Vienna each from Karajan alone. Fischer-Dieskau, who is Karajan’s baritone in Salzburg, can be had on the famous Klemperer recording or with Kempe from 1955, one of my favorites. But the marvelous Lisa Della Casa can only be had in this performance. Something special happens here; this performance has a distinct atmosphere. Hushed choral passages melt into the orchestral sound and elaborate long lines make the Requiem less episodic than how it can often come across. The acoustic and sound quality, too, is much better than on the other three discs.

With the BPO, Karajan also led the first of two concerts of contemporary music of the festival (Mitropoulos conducted the VPO in the other), and that concert from August 14 at the Mozarteum is probably the most interesting of the lot. The Sinfonia parabolica by Franz Schmidt- and Korngold-pupil Theodor Berger (1905–1992) was given its world premiere that night; the third work of Berger’s that Karajan premiered. It’s work that defies categorization. There is little of Schmidt, and nothing of Korngold or his friend Joseph Marx in this work. Nor has his music any hint of modernism à la Darmstadt. Three movements (“Gliding,” “Hovering,” “Rotating”) offer different angles on rather rough-hewn musical material that gets a slightly repetitive work-over. Music I would enjoy hearing in the concert hall, but not something I’d seek out for repeat listening.

I find Gottfried von Einem’s First Piano Concerto, op. 20 (banned by the Nazis), a good deal more attractive. This seems to be the only recording on CD, as DG didn’t reissue Fricsay’s 1961 recording even in the “Fricsay—Life in Music” box. Gerty Herzog, also Fricsay’s pianist, is the performer in this spunky late-Romantic concerto that tinkles through three movements not unlike Ravel’s, except less lyrically. Honegger’s Third Symphony is the only work that went on to have a career, and Karajan recorded it again 12 years later. No need to seek this out if you already have the better sounding DG recording, but the intensity he brought to that work is already evident here, and in spades.

For devoted collectors of Karajan’s work or those interested in the Salzburg Festival, this is obviously attractive, but even the best ingredients—Brahms, von Einem—may not merit purchase for the general collector.

Fanfare Magazine

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