Rafael Kubelik was one of our foremost interpreters of Dvorak and other great Czech composers such as Smetana and Janacek. His critically acclaimed 1960's Dvorak symphony Deutsche Grammophon cycle was reissued several years ago as a budget-priced collection.
This was one of the first digital version (the very first?) of Tchaikovsky's violin concerto and remains pretty competitive though perhaps not a first choice. Kremer's playing is surely polished and technically impressive; the phrasing is wonderful and the tone beautiful. Still, it is unfortunately a little short on charm and expressive depth - Tchaikovsky's concerto isn't really the most appropriate vehicle neither for classical restraint nor almost curmudgeonly introspective approaches; it is peripatetic grand drama and passion and heart-on-sleeve through and through and despite Kremer's sweetness of tone he never manages to scale the heights or plunge the emotional abysses of the music.
These performances come from the first ever complete set of the Mozart symphonies, dating from the 1960s, and they still represent 'big orchestra' Mozart at its most congenial. The contrast here between Bohm's sparkling Mozart, both elegant and vigorous, and the much smoother view taken by Karajan with the same orchestra, works almost entirely in Bohm's favour. Interpretatively, these are performances very much of their time, with exposition repeats the exception (as in the first movement of No. 40) and with Minuets taken at what now seem lumbering speeds. Yet slow movements flow easily, and finales bounce along infectiously. Consistently they convey the happy ease of Bohm in Mozart, even if the recording is beefy by today's standards, not as transparent as one now expects in this repertory, whether on modern or period instruments.
For Simon Rattle, Jean Sibelius is “one of the most staggeringly original composers that there is”. And indeed, this music has a unique musical language whose many beauties are particularly succinctly conveyed in Sibelius’s seven symphonies. There is sonorous warmth as much as there is austere Nordic folklore. Moreover, there is a conceptual boldness that takes the listener on exciting musical journeys of discovery. In 2015, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Sibelius’s birth, Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker presented the cycle live, which was met with unanimous delight by audiences and critics alike. “The Philharmoniker show that with them and Simon Rattle, Sibelius is in excellent hands,” wrote the Berliner Zeitung, “because the orchestra has that astringency and sheer power which is so important for this kind of music.”
In light of the "chill-out" trend of the 1990s, major labels released many albums of slow, meditative pieces to appeal to listeners who wanted relaxing or reflective background music. Deutsche Grammophon's vaults are full of exceptional recordings of classical orchestral music, and the performances by Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic are prominent in the label's catalog. The slow selections on Karajan: Adagio are in most cases drawn from larger compositions, though these movements are frequently anthologized as if they were free-standing works. Indeed, many have come to think of the Adagietto from Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 5 as a separate piece in its own right, largely because of its evocative use in the film Death in Venice. Furthermore, the famous Canon by Johann Pachelbel is seldom played with its original companion piece, the Gigue in D major, let alone in its original version for three violins and continuo; it most often appears in an arrangement for strings.
The two works included in this album are among the most unlikely of recording combinations, but here they are, under the baton of Claudio Abbado and the BPO, collaborating with Abbado's bosom friend Pollini.