Karajan: Rimsky-Korsakov - Scheherazade, Tchaikovsky - Capriccio Italien, 1812 (24/96 FLAC)
Karajan: Rimsky-Korsakov – Scheherazade, Tchaikovsky – Capriccio Italien, 1812 (24/96 FLAC)

Composer: Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky
Performer: Michel Schwalbé
Orchestra: Berliner Philharmoniker
Conductor: Herbert von Karajan
Audio CD
Number of Discs: 1
Format: FLAC (tracks)
Label: Deutsche Grammophon
Size: 1.55 GB
Recovery: +3%
Scan: yes

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Scheherazade Op. 35
01. I. Largo e maestoso
02. II. Lento
03. III. Andantino quasi allegretto
04. IV. Allegro molto

Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky
Capriccio Italien Op. 45 TH 47
05. Andante un poco rubato

Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky
Overture “1812” Op. 49 TH 49
06. Largo – Allegro giusto

This disc features three of Russia’s most familiar composition: Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade and Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture and Capriccio Italien. They are all so popular that almost everybody will recognize their famous tunes. So, of course, it should come as a breath of fresh air when musicians as great as Karajan and the Berliners try to tackle these masterpieces. Did they succeed in giving us something special?

Well, they certainly did in the Scheherazade. This is a work overflowing with a wealth of melodies combined with gripping drama. Karajan and the Berliners seem right at home in such a world. Karajan is gloriously intense, seeing all of the many mood changes, delivering them with finesse, while preventing things from getting out of hand (one of his greatest gifts as a conductor). Everyone wants to be kept awake during this work, and Karajan does the job. Clarity reigns even in the most climatic of moments, the buildup to the sinking of the ship in particular. Karajan has a wonderful eye for detail and even though this disc is from the 60’s, you can pick up on wonderful contrasts that are present throughout. And I shouldn’t forget to mention the win of the performance–the 3rd movement. Here the Berlin strings take us out of this world with the power of their beauty and elegance. I didn’t know such a thing was possible in this work, but it appears that it is. Despite this recording’s age, it is just as indispensible now as it was when it first appeared on LP.

After hearing the Scheherazade, the Tchaikovsky sounds unsatisfying in comparison. Karajan is still intense, to be sure, but I don’t hear him pulling out as many thrilling moments. Sometimes the music can border on sounding dull, and that is not what I want in my Tchaikovsky. It’s strange, because Karajan has worked wonders with Tchaikovsky elsewhere. Perhaps he, like me, considers these works, particularly the 1812, to be overhyped and doesn’t have much interest in the music. The average listener won’t notice these setbacks, because things are still interesting to a degree, but experienced listeners will probably complain. In order for these works to really make an impression, solemnity will be out the window. But that is exactly what Karajan tries to incorporate, which keeps things from really coming to life. It wouldn’t have hurt to throw more fun into the picture. At least that’s how I feel.

To summarize, the Scheherazade is given a stunning performance that demands a listen, while the Tchaikovsky asks for more. But given the quality of the former work, you’ve got to own this disc. The recording quality is very good considering that it’s from 1967. Buy this CD as if though you were only getting the Scheherazade, and there’s no way you’ll be disappointed.

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