Most helpful positive review
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One of Karajan's finest achievements
on December 27, 2001
This outstanding recording of Wagner selections was made live at the 1987 Salzburg Festival. It certainly captured Karajan at his best. He is quite fabulous here; of course, he draws a glorious sound from the Vienna Philharmonic on top form, but here he is also infallible of pacing, and expressive and insightful of interpretation. This is one of his warmest recordings I know of. He is letting himself get caught up in the music, as he sometimes didn't.
The opening Tannhäuser Overture is nobler in the pilgrims' theme, more sensuous in the Venusberg music, more singing in Tannhäuser's song than any other recording. It is a magnificent performance. The only drawback I can find is that in the more energetic sections of the Venusberg music, Karajan sounds a little heavyweight: not as wild and fleet as Solti. In all other respects, though, this is an incredible performance, and makes you regret again that he never made a legitimate recording of the complete opera.
The Siegfried Idyll is, if anything, even more extraordinary. It is warmest performance I know, unfolding gently and sweetly in a glorious, beautifully rich carpet of sound from the Vienna forces. It is also helped by the clarity and transparency of the magnificent digital recording. It is an ideal reading, and alone is worth the price of the set.
The Tristan excerpts are also on this level. The Act 1 Prelude is magnificent. Emotion is conveyed more clearly than in Karajan's 1971 complete recording, and there is an added clarity of sound and orchestral texture. It is as fine a recording as any, and on the same level as (though very different in style from) Furtwängler's 1952 EMI recording. The Liebestod is gorgeous, one of the two or three greatest recordings of this stunning piece ever made. Jessye Norman is a glorious soloist, with her large, magnificently beautiful voice riding the waves of orchestral sound in a way few can. The climax is stunning, and dies away into rapturous lyricism from Karajan and the Vienna Philharmonic. The only other recordings I think are on this level are the 1952 Furtwängler/Flagstad and the 1971 Karajan/Dernesch. Comparison between the 1971 and 1987 Karajan versions is particularly interesting. The 1971 account is, strangely, more electric and intense, with Dernesch providing both a more beautiful, truly Wagnerian voice and singing more expressively than Norman. The climax at "In der Welt-Atems wehendem All" is the most shatteringly ecstatic on any recording. The 1987 recording is clearer and perhaps even more beautiful than the earlier account, but not as intense. Inevitably, more detail can be heard in the digital recording. Both are fabulous recordings, however; though in some ways the Furtwängler/Flagstad is the finest of all.
Overall, this is one of the finest recordings in recent memory. In my opinion, this is one of Karajan's finest recorded achievements and one that deserves to be in every collection of Wagner. Enjoy!