C0998. HERBERT von KARAJAN Cond. Vienna Phil., w.Leontyne Price, Hilde Rössel-Majdan, Fritz Wunderlich, Walter Berry & Eberhard Wächter: REQUIEM in d, K.626; LEONTYNE PRICE: DON GIOVANNI - Excerpts (both Mozart). (Germany) Archipel 0511, Live Performance, 24 Aug., 1960, Salzburg. - 4035122405118
“The year 1960 proved a banner year for soprano Leontyne Price, considered the first Afro-American singer to achieve international status as a classical artist in opera. After her European début, she and conductor Herbert von Karajan bonded well; and here in Salzburg (24 August 1960), they both appear at the top of their respective forms. Karajan assembles a stellar vocal ensemble for the REQUIEM, including the inimitable voice of tenor Fritz Wunderlich whose appearance in the ‘Tuba mirum, Recordare, Domine Jesu Christe’, and ‘Benedictus’ sections proves especially felicitous. We could spend considerable time focusing on individual touches by Price in her stratospheric tessitura or the clear, plangent bass tones of Walter Berry. The performance has majesty and breadth, the pacing solemn without heaviness, unlike many of the Berlin Karajan experiences.
The ‘pirate’ label Archipel adds some fifteen minutes of the DON GIOVANNI production from the same Salzburg Festival. Price projects a severe Donna Anna, from her opening ‘Or sai chi l’onore’, where she has deduced that the Don had been complicit in her father’s death, and she begs vengeance upon the murderer. From Act II, Scene 5 we have the recitative and aria, ‘Crudele? Ah, no, mio ben! Non mi dir, bell’idol mio’, in which Donna Anna entreats Don Ottavio to delay talk of marriage until her period of mourning has passed. The grim fatality of the scene finds a deep response in Price….With the Karajan ensemble’s excitement and tonal pungency behind her, Price virtually has the Salzburg audience howling their delight. A fine record, with more than acceptable sound, and an insert photo of Eberhard Waechter that will serve as a pin-up.”
- Gary Lemco, AUDIOPHILE AUDITION, 15 Dec., 2015
“No one would deny von Karajan’s position in the topmost ranks of 20th-century conductors. Inspired to conduct at the age of 20 when he heard Arturo Toscanini in Vienna, and Wilhelm Furtwängler's great rival from the early 1940s until the older maestro's death in 1954, Mr. Karajan once said that he had attempted to combine ‘Toscanini's precision with Furtwängler's fantasy’. But Mr. Karajan was always more than a mere conductor: he was a man of enormous energy and careerist determination, and he managed at his peak, in the late 1950s and early ‘60s, to tower over European musical life as no one had done before or is likely to do again. His nickname at the time was 'the general music director of Europe’,' leading the Berlin Philharmonic, La Scala in Milan, London's Philharmonia Orchestra, the Vienna State Opera and the Salzburg Festival.
Mr. Karajan's life was hardly untouched by controversy. His membership in the Nazi party from 1933, his lack of overt repentance for his thriving career during the Nazi years and his imperious personality made him many enemies. While he was always deeply respected as a conductor, some critics found his music-making increasingly slick and overrefined in his last decades. And his final years were clouded by a series of bitter battles with the Berlin Philharmonic, the West Berlin ensemble whose 'conductor for life' he became in 1955. He abruptly resigned his Berlin post in April, 1989, citing ill health.
Yet for all the tales of arrogance and self-indulgence, Mr. Karajan remained a masterly conductor, with a grasp of the standard orchestral and operatic repertory from Mozart through Schönberg that was unsurpassed among his peers. Always a champion of Mozart, Beethoven - whose symphony cycle he recorded three times - Wagner and Bruckner, he gradually extended his grasp to include Mahler and even Schönberg. He was also a lifelong admirer of Italian opera and, contrary to his domineering image, a champion of young talent, from the American soprano Leontyne Price to the Soviet pianist Yevgeny Kissin.
When critics complained that his performances in his later years had grown overrefined, he replied that 'if the details are right, the performance will work’. And to the very end, he drew playing of the utmost tonal beauty from his orchestras. The Berlin Philharmonic is widely regarded as the world's pre-eminent orchestra, if any one ensemble can stake that claim. And his performances at Carnegie Hall with the Vienna Philharmonic drew almost astonished enthusiasm from veteran observers for their sonic sumptuousness, even if not all the critics praised the musical results.
'The Karajan industry bears about the same relation to postwar European music that Krupp bore to prewar European steel production’, wrote Martin Mayer in The New York Times Magazine in 1967. The classic, if perhaps apocryphal, Karajan anecdote had the conductor leaping into a taxi and, when asked his destination, replying: 'No matter. I am in demand everywhere’. Yet the conductor also had a spiritual side, and was a 40-year student of yoga and Zen Buddhism. He believed in reincarnation, and once dreamed of being reborn as an eagle, soaring above his beloved Alps.
Fascinated by technical innovations, he once contemplated being frozen for 15 years so that he could re-record the standard repertory in the latest video and audio technology.”
- John Rockwell, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 17 July, 1989
“Was Karajan in fact a first-class second-rate conductor? What conductor today can demonstrate this sense of grip and line? Or would want to?”
- David Gutman, GRAMOPHONE, Jan., 2008, p.69
"Privately, Karajan was a dignified man, with elegant bearing. But when he came onstage to demonstrate movements, his own became very strange. He strutted about like a cock in a henhouse, his rear end stuck out and his head in the air. I grant, this rustic description does not fit into the Karajan myth, but it was exactly so."
- Birgit Nilsson, LA NILSSON, p.110