C0234. HERBERT von KARAJAN Cond. Vienna Phil.: Also sprach Zarathustra; w.Rudolf Streng & Pierre Fournier: Don Quixote (both Strauss). (Austria) Orfeo C 909 151, Live Performance, 30 Aug., 1964, Salzburg Festival. Long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy! - 4011790909127
“Herbert von Karajan’s visit to the Salzburg Festival in August 1964 was dominated by the works of Richard Strauss in celebration of the composer’s centenary. Whilst this freshly released ALSO SPRACH ZARATHUSTRA has previously appeared in an Andante boxed set devoted to Karajan at the Salzburg Festival, the DON QUIXOTE appears to be a first issue.
As always with Karajan, the distinction between his meticulous and sometimes rather over-wrought studio recordings and his live performances are noticeable. Even the choice of orchestra adds something to the magical and precise details that Karajan draws from both performances. That with his Berlin orchestra tended to be occluded by dense textures. Thrilling as the Berlin Philharmonic EIN HELDENLEBEN from a few weeks before this concert with the Vienna Philhamonic is, what clarity and definition and sheer grace there is in the Viennese playing, especially in their glorious performance of DON QUIXOTE.
Yes, Karajan does exploit the dark tones of the Viennese basses at the beginning of ‘Von der Wissenschaft’ in ALSO SPRACH ZARATHUSTRA, but how wonderfully they are transposed against such tonally fluid upper strings….this is a tone poem in which darkness and light are in perpetual opposition….This is a sunrise that breaks over the horizon like an exploding star. The Backwaters (Hinterweltern) emerge with a poetic shimmer, a hazy and seductive Viennese dreaminess that recalls Debussy in Karajan’s hands; not for Karajan do we get a ham-fisted or schmaltzy Viennese waltz. For a live performance dynamics are astonishingly accurate – but given that Karajan’s way with this huge piece is really to treat it like a chamber work that isn’t surprising. Throughout one is often spellbound by details here and there, playing of unusual poetry and a stunning use of dynamics. It doesn’t sound in the slightest forensic, but highly spontaneous, as a live performance ought to. It borders on the opulent but it has just the right amount of spikiness to bring the account alive.
Karajan commercially recorded DON QUIXOTE three times, so clearly loved the work, but more than that, for a conductor so devoted to the intricacies of detail and refinement, he had a clear empathy for irony and humour, two virtues almost essential for a performance of DON QUIXOTE to take flight. Virtuosic though the solo cello and viola parts are — not to say the bass clarinet and tenor tuba which also depict Sancho Panza — Strauss didn’t necessarily have in mind a virtuoso soloist for the Don himself. Karajan’s choice of Pierre Fournier is rather an inspired one, not least because Fournier has all the dashing elegance and brilliance required to bring off the role with both distinctive tone and razor-sharp precision. Rudolf Streng, principal viola of the Vienna Philharmonic, is both masterly and pure, entirely at one with the character he’s portraying. The difficulty with this work is in making it sound cohesive, giving it a narrative that brings together its Mozartean deftness with its Straussian touches into an expressive fable. Perhaps because this is the Vienna Philharmonic, and perhaps because this is Karajan, episodes such as the attack on the sheep and the battle with the windmills, with added wind machines and the inventive woodwind flourishes are less garish than they sound in other recordings. Karajan can be rousing, exciting and even violent in his characterisation of Strauss’ demands, but the underlying execution has an aestheticism and expressiveness that is entirely eloquent. In a work which is as difficult to bring off as DON QUIXOTE this performance is near perfect.
In many ways this is a rather remarkable document of a concert where the results defy the difficult events surrounding the achievements of the music-making. This final concert from the 1964 Festival was somewhat clouded by the political and cultural differences between Karajan and Vienna and Salzburg which had led to an unbridgeable gulf between the two. As is so often the case, personal bitterness can lead to artistic results at an unfathomable level. This was very much the case here, and just listening to these two performances you sense a conductor and orchestra so clearly meant to be making music together but probably not in Vienna or Salzburg.”
- Marc Bridle, MusicWebInternational