“A glittering account of the most perfect of all operettas, with an incredibly starry cast, all in peak condition. Karl Böhm's conducting is relaxed but sparkling.” (BBC Music Magazine)
Karl August Leopold Böhm (1894 – 1981) was an Austrian conductor. (…) Böhm was praised for his rhythmically robust interpretations of the operas and symphonies of Mozart, and in the 1960s he was entrusted with recording all the Mozart symphonies with the Berlin Philharmonic. His brisk, straightforward way with Wagner won adherents, as did his readings of the symphonies of Brahms, Bruckner and Schubert. His 1971 complete recording of the Beethoven symphonies with the Vienna Philharmonic was also highly regarded. On a less common front, he championed and recorded Alban Berg's avant-garde operas Wozzeck and Lulu before they gained a foothold in the standard repertory. Böhm mentioned in the notes to his recordings of these works that he and Berg discussed the orchestrations, leading to changes in the score (as he had similarly done, previously, with Richard Strauss). He received numerous honors, among them first Austrian Generalmusikdirektor in 1964.
As Strauss' largest and most ambitious work, "Die Frau ohne Schatten" demands attention, even though it is one of his most problematic operas. It contains some of the composer's most stirring and sumptuous music, and its story is full of drama and roiling human passions – in fact, perhaps it is its surfeit of ideas and emotion and symbolism and intensity that makes it difficult to approach. Hugo von Hofmannsthal's heavily allegorical libretto was cobbled together from a variety of mythologies, yet he manages to humanize the characters so that they are not merely archetypes. Strauss' music is nearly relentlessly tumultuous, what some might call overwrought, yet he too makes us empathize with the characters. The key to making the gigantic, unwieldy opera into a cogent and balanced musical drama falls largely to the conductor, and Karl Böhm, leading the Vienna Philharmonic, is able give it the shape it needs to succeed in making believers of the audience. He is assisted by a first-rate cast, which more than rises to the composer's extravagant vocal and dramatic demands – the opera requires large voices able to convey larger-than-life personalities
Karl Böhm's Beethoven is, on balance, the best complete cycle available from Deutsche Grammophon. This will come as a surprise to many, given the fact that the label relentlessly promotes performances by Herbert von Karajan (three complete cycles!) and Leonard Bernstein, but for quality of playing, as well as superb sound, these versions are just about unbeatable. And at a "twofer" price, the complete set on three pairs of discs is a terrific value. –David Hurwitz
This is one of the greatest recordings of the famous Ninth Symphony. It has long been overshadowed by Karajan's three recordings for the same label, as well as Bernstein's version with the same orchestra. But put them all on your CD player and compare, and this is the one you'll be coming back to. Böhm was the least glamorous of conductors, but he approaches the Ninth with messianic zeal and a fanatical gleam in his eye. The opening movement is a cataclysm, the sublime slow movement never loses its contemplative flow, and everyone involved simply sings and plays the pants off of the finale. If the final minute or two doesn't pull you right out of your seat, nothing will. Grab it while you can at this "twofer" price. It's a steal. –David Hurwitz
Karl Böhm's Vienna Philharmonic Beethoven cycle is Deutsche Grammophon's best kept secret. Not only is it the finest complete set of Beethoven symphonies in their catalog, it's also far and away the best recorded, and to make matters even more irresistible, it's also the least expensive (it's available on three "twofer" sets). These performances are typical: weighty, intense, powerful, and magnificently played. Listen especially to the (comparatively) neglected Fourth Symphony: if Böhm doesn't convince you that this is major Beethoven, then no one can.
Esoteric Japan released a Hybrid SACD box set of Mozart: 9 Symphonies on December 15, 2015.