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CD Review

Karajan Edition

Mstislav Rostropovich, cello
Ulrich Koch, viola
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Herbert Von Karajan
EMI 66106
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Well, it seems that EMI has finally taken the 20-Bit plunge. At least this seems the case since both of the "Karajan Edition" discs I have reviewed feature this latest technology in remastering. I have been noticing that CDs using this process sound significantly better than those that do not. This is evident in this disc.

The "Don Quixote" was originally released on CD in 1987, a copy of the LP cover adorning the CD. Listening to this release was a revelation!! The earlier release has a kind of grainy sound to the music. This has been replaced by a warmer sound which is still detailed and has more definition. Then you have the added treats in the form of Wagner material (the original CD was uncoupled).

I requested this disc because I hoped the "Don Quixote" would be the one with Rostropovich and I was right. Looking at the review sheet sent me from EMI, however, I wasn't sure. What is hyped is the Karajan image, including a rather pompous looking HvK on the insert cover. Well, I was rewarded doubly for my efforts, since this is not only one of the finest recordings of Strauss' work, but also, as I have said, is now available in a superb remastering.

Rostropovich plays this music unlike anyone else. He imbues the Don with a humanity and pathos deeper than anyone else. This piece has long been a favorite of mine. The Rostropovich has the kind of earthiness to it I love and found in Feurmann's interpretation with Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Let me cite a few examples. The opening of 'Don Quixote attacks the Penitents' has a swirling of percussion that has a visceral impact here that is mushy in the first CD. 'Dulcinea's enchantment' is haunting, the orchestral contribution is fitting and provides evidence that Von Karajan truly was a great conductor, at least at one time. The wind machine in the "Hoax of the Flying Horse' practically knocked me off my chair. The Don's final illness brought tears to my eyes as Rostropovich plays it. God, its great to have this interpretation so beautifully wrought by 20-Bit technology.

Then there's the matter of the Wagner items. I have to be honest, I am not a fan of Herbert Von Karajan. I am also spoilt by having been exposed to Stokowski's Wagner before HvK's. to my ears Stokowski's interpretations of these pieces are more emotional, more erotic, more involving, more magical, more epic, more everything this is not. Take the Meistersinger Overture as an example. The sole Stokowski recorded comparison is with the London Symphony recorded when Stokowski was making his 60 Year Anniversary concerts with them. After the initial opening the strings in Stokowski's hands have a sweep to them which is subdued in Von Karajan's approach. Now, this may be what Wagner intended, but I prefer what Stokowski renders. Well, you do know that I am President of the Leopold Stokowski Society of America, so my opinions here may be biased. You may prefer Maestro Von Karajan's approach and the sound here is as good as in the Strauss.

The insert notes are adequate but nothing more. They provide a detail of HvK's career and sketchy notes about the music. The individual 'themes' are tracked but no explanation of them is provided in the notes. The notes in the earlier release are better and I will keep the at hand for the cover art as well.

I am glad that EMI has joined the other majors in the 20-Bit remastering. I am convinced that this process provides superior CDs. An executive at RCA has told me that he feels the 20-Bit process has become the industry's standard. Based on the evidence I have heard, I hope he is right.

Copyright © 1998, Robert Stumpf II