Karajan surmounted this pinnacle of the choral-symphonic repertoire - which Beethoven himself called "the greatest work I have composed" - no fewer than four times in the recording studio, but only once live and on film: in this unique document from the 1979 Salzburg Easter Festival. The atmosphere of Salzburg's Festspielhaus and festival audience adds a special frisson to this conductor's classic interpretation of the Missa solemnis.
With the Berliner Philharmoniker under Herbert von Karajan, Beethoven's Seventh Symphony resounds with melodic force, the Eighth is a masterful blend of grace and wit, and the Ninth - directed by Karajan himself - is a vital and explicitly dramatic reading of Beethoven's revolutionary work.
Made after his official resignation from the Berlin Phil and six months before his death, this last recording is likely - at least in part - reflective of Karajan's mental tossing and turning before he died. We could gather that he felt quite wronged, and wanted to express forgiveness then to bid the world a farewell.
Walter Gieseking is joined by stellar wind players, including the great hornist Dennis Brain; and the Quintets have a gleaming, robust quality that make them irresistible. They were recorded in the mid- 1950s, a time when Gieseking sometimes operated on automatic pilot, but here he sounds involved and fluent; the keyboard part played with aristocratic grace and, where appropriate, sparkling high spirits. The filler is one of Herbert von Karajan's few successful Mozart recordings, aided immeasurably by the expert first-desk soloists of the Philharmonia.