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CD Review

Ludwig van Beethoven

Pristine 222

Karajan in New York

Symphony #9

Leontyne Price, soprano
Maureen Forrester, contralto
Léopold Simoneau, tenor
Norman Scott, bass
Westminster Choir
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan
Pristine Audio PASC222 66:35
Also available on SACD:

This is the same performance I reviewed back in 2014 on Archipel, a live document of Karajan's concerts in New York. Outside of these concerts, Karajan also appeared at the Hollywood Bowl and conducted the Cleveland Orchestra in Salzburg; these appearances comprise all his symphonic engagements with American ensembles. Pristine's Andrew Rose marks this disc as a "special interest" project, largely because the limitations of the AM radio broadcasts make listening a chore regardless of who handles the sonic restoration. For 1958, the sound is admittedly very poor, especially when one compares the performance to either the Philharmonia cycle on Warner, or the 1962-63 cycle on Deutsche Grammophon.

However, that hardly diminishes the excellence of what we have here. Karajan's conception certainly comes through more clearly than on his wartime Vienna reading, also on Warner. And it's impossible to deny the appeal of hearing Karajan in his youthful prime with Leonard Bernstein's then-new orchestra (this would have been his first season as Music Director). As a Beethoven conductor, Karajan was fairly consistent, with individual performances differing more in terms of orchestral balance or blend than in overall vision. So we hear things that are very similar to the better-known studio takes, chief among them a beauty of tone not found in Bernstein's own Beethoven recordings made around the same time for Columbia. Also superior is Karajan's solo quartet, which is noticeably less starry in Lenny's Columbia cycle. The Westminster Choir, never my favorite bunch, sings well enough, though the sonic haze makes distinguishing the text even more difficult than usual.

Let's not kid ourselves, this is not an essential purchase unless conductor and orchestra are truly important to you. I'm happy to have it in the best sound yet, while the excellent Beethoven First it was coupled with on Archipel is saved by Pristine for Volume II. I suggest investing in all three discs of Rose's series if you are going to take the plunge at all, because it truly does demonstrate the youthful Karajan in excellent form. Pristine offers each volume as either download of varying quality (good to FLAC) and as made to order discs, which I chose per the policies of our site. As Pristine is in France, it takes a while, but they are happy to work with US customers. If the program appeals, indulge.

Copyright © 2017, Brian Wigman