"Karajan's direction is exactly as in the studio: majestic, broadly paced without being inert, vast in dynamic range, always considerate to his soloists, unerring in its preparation and clinching of climaxes." ~BBC Music Magazine
Admirers of Karajan will probably own most or all of these symphony cycles from what was probably the pinnacle of the conductor's prolific career. However, if you are unfamiliar with Karajan's work, or well enough acquainted with it to desire further exploration, then this amazingly inexpensive anthology can be enthusiastically recommended. I purchased all of these sets when they came out in DG's previous mid-priced "Karajan Symphony Edition," and I can testify to their consistently oustanding quality, both as performances and as interpretations. As recordings, however, it must be admitted that the sound is of variable quality; sometimes admirably vivid and well balanced, but frequently tending toward harshness, even garishness–particularly in those which come from the early digital era (cf. Bruckner's symphonies 1-3). Too bad Universal didn't see fit to give this magnificent legacy a sonic facelift. Still, the performances are sufficiently worthy of your attention to warrant purchase regardless of these sonic limitations.
In the semi-darkness within a grotto beneath the church of Santo Rosario in Cadiz, the bishop pronounced one of the seven Last Words of Christ, then, during the ensuing silence, the orchestra played… Commissioned from Haydn in 1786, these seven mystical sonatas, with their sombre melody, take their inspiration from the rhythm of each of the seven Words. Preceded by a noble Prelude and followed by an impressive Terremoto (Earthquake), there have been various versions (piano, string quartet, vocal), but here they are presented in the original version and with all the glowing colours of the Concert des Nations.
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.
On this recording of The Seven Words, the Rosamunde String Quartet offers a compelling rendition of one of Haydn's most complex compositions. The Seven Words was originally composed for a full orchestra as a series of seven adagios, which were meant to be interludes during a congregation's meditations on the last seven words of Christ on the Cross. Haydn struggled with a way to compose seven connected pieces of music that were solemn and yet varied enough to keep the listener from getting bored. The members of the Rosamunde Quartet are technically brilliant as they demonstrate the composer's solutions to this musical puzzle. Even though the tempo is slow, they never let the music become ponderous or oppressive. But to Haydn, The Seven Words was more than just an aural conundrum. He felt the composition was perhaps his most sacred work, and the quartet plays this music with reverence for the composer's spiritual intentions. This is a profound piece of music, and the Rosamunde does it justice on each of its many levels.
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.