39. Herbert von Karajan, Wiener Philharmoniker, 1961

Holst - The Planets (Karajan, Wiener Philharmoniker, 1961)

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What a difference a couple of decades (and a different orchestra) can make. Compared to Herbie’s twenty-years-later effort with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, this Vienna version is much better. Right off the bat, it doesn’t have any of the sonic sludge that I’m used to hearing with Another Karajan Super-Important Production. It’s refreshing to not hear aural sludge from I’m The Herburban Spaceman. (That tends to be what I hear most of the time from a Señor Karijuana recording.)

This Vienna Planets is frisky and agile. I wouldn’t put this in a Pantheon of Planets or anything (or maybe I would, depending on how I feel after hearing all of it), but it’s much more lively and alert than I’ve usually heard in recordings by The Great Man.

“Jupiter”‘s full of beans, not like the later one (which was horrible). However, I must say (with a slight sigh) that Herba-herba-herba doesn’t play “Jupiter”‘s big slow tune here (2:52-4:46) the way I like it (broad and noble). But it’s nowhere near as horrid as his 1981 Berlin attempt. (I don’t ever want to hear that again.) Awww, dagnabit. There I was, enjoying the drawn-out, draining build-up in “Saturn” (like an old man dragging his leg, as he tries, with great effort, to get from one end of a room to the other). Unfortunately, that mood evaporated when a trumpeter played a dud note at 4:47. Grrr. Can I have that mood back, please? Oh no. At 4:59-5:00, the trumpeter is at it again, but this time he/she plays an incredibly unconfident note. And it was the last note of the trumpeter’s phrase in this section. That’s not how I wanted the trumpet part to end here – I wanted the trumpeter to make more of an effort, to be more “Rage, rage against the dying of the light!”, but in trumpet form.

Oops. I’ve just realised I’m starting to spend way too much time talking about this recording too. I really have to make an effort to be more succinct. (Note to self: Be succinct, Peter.)

I’m pleased to say the rest of “Saturn” went well. (I wasn’t exceptionally disappointed with any trumpeters or anything.)

I was a little surprised to hear distortion in “Uranus” (1:54, 3:35, 3:47), because up until then the recording quality of this here record had been mighty fine.

There’s some dodgy intonation in “Neptune” (0:55-0:58), but otherwise it’s fine.

Now that I’ve heard it all, I wouldn’t call it a Planets On A Pedestal. I’d call it a good-to-almost-very-good Planets.

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2 thoughts on “39. Herbert von Karajan, Wiener Philharmoniker, 1961

  1. John R, Lewis III March 27, 2015 / 9:31 am

    I substantially agree with you on this one, Peter. The execution is impressive, and it’s way better than Karajan’s remake; however, for me it is perhaps a little too “Germanic,” imposing, but hard to warm up to. Still worth an occasional spin, however.

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    • Peter March 27, 2015 / 7:39 pm

      Herbie is one of my least favourite conductors. I find that whole jet-setting / superstar / I-Am-The-Conductor-I-Am-A-God approach to music-making a bit off-putting. And the longer his career went on, the more Karajanified his conducting became. Although I haven’t heard all that many of his recordings (Herbo sure did record a lot), my overall impression is that the earlier back you go, the less Karajanic he was.

      The short version of the above paragraph is that I much prefer Herbarific’s 1961 Planets recording (see above) to Herbenstein’s 1981 effort.

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