The Karajan Collection: Philharmonia Promenade Concert (CD review)

Herbert von Karajan, Philharmonia Orchestra. EMI 7243 4 76900-2.

In 2005 the powers that be at EMI continued to find new and varied ways to repackage their older material, of which they had one of the biggest catalogues in the business (most of it now owned by Warner Classics). In the present album, we get a single disc from a multi-disc collection EMI put together called "The Karajan Collection." The boxed collection featured Karajan's work with both the Philharmonia Orchestra and the Berlin Philharmonic, but this single disc, Promenade Concert, features just the Philharmonia.

The booklet note tells us that the Philharmonia Promenade Concert (1958-1960) comprises the last recordings Karajan made for EMI with the Philharmonia Orchestra before he left for the Berlin Philharmonic. It seems an odd way to go out, this most sober-minded maestro doing a collection of lightweight showpieces, but it's all in good fun, and Karajan genuinely seems to be having a jolly time letting his hair down, so to speak.

Herbert von Karajan
There are twelve works on the disc, all of them popular warhorses, and I'll mention only a few: Chabrier's EspaƱa, Waldteufel's Skaters' Waltz, Suppe's Light Cavalry Overture, Weinberger's Schwanda the Bagpiper, Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld Overture, and Borodin's Polovtsian Dances, plus bits by Berlioz, Leoncavallo, and the Strausses. Karajan gives his full attention to each and every piece, and each of them radiates a charm and a swagger that, quite frankly, I wouldn't have expected. Of course, one also has to expect Karajan's typically glamorous manner, with many a long-breathed note and even more swooping phrases. It's OK: It does the music more good than harm.

The sound appears typical of EMI in the Fifties, leaning rather to the bright, thin side, but with plenty of sparkle and definition. A comparison to another Karajan disc in the EMI series (of Wagner orchestral music) made some twenty years later with Berlin reveals the newer disc sounding fuller and weightier, but not necessarily any better, especially musically.

On a further note, Warner Classics have recently made the album available for download, in whole or in part. So there's another option to consider, given that the EMI disc may now be hard to find.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa