|"Time that with this strange excuse/Pardoned Kipling and his views,/And will pardon Paul Claudel,/Pardons him for writing well." W.H.Auden.
This year is the 100th anniversary of the 20th Centurys most successful musician, the conductor, Herbert von Karajan. He is the top-selling classical recording artist of all time. He helped bring the London Philharmonia into existence: he founded the Salzburg Festival, and was elected in 1955 conductor for life of the Berlin Philharmonic. He flew jet planes, skied and sailed with a professionals ease, and his gift for mimicry made him fun at parties. To celebrate his life, EMI Classics has issued Karajan: The Legend, a two disc set of 19 passages from recordings he did with the Berlin Philharmonic.
The selections focus on Von Karajans penchant for music of the Romantic tradition in Europe, embracing Ravel, Puccini, Berlioz, Smetana, Weber, Wagner, Smetana, Sibelius, Dvorak, and so on. This recording illustrates the legendary abilities of Von Karajan, namely: to create consistent and increasing tension through large arcs of phrasing, to make large orchestral forces play like chamber groups, to create immensely powerful sonorities without any harshness, and most remarkable of all, to conduct without appearing to interpret the music. As Carlos Klieber put it, He simply plays the notes. Its a kind of black magic.
So what is it that his musicianship will earn Von Karajan time's pardon for? His ten year membership in the Nazi Party (1935-45). During the period when Bruno Walter, and Otto Klemperer were forced to flee Fascism, when Erich Klieber and Toscanini chose voluntary exile, Von Karajan benefited from the vacant positions these more principled musicians left behind. And though Arthur Rubenstein, Isaac Stern, and Itzhak Perlman refused to play with him, the present verdict of history is that the Von Karajan legacy is about his conducting, not about his character.
If you are interested in listening to exquisitely refined orchestral performances, vibrant with power and polished to a marmoreal smoothness, you will enjoy this centenary celebration album.
by Stanley Fefferman May 2008