Several early Amazon reviewers treated this Bruckner Seventh, which was released posthumously after Karajan's death in 1989, as if it foreshadows an old man's passing. But this performance isn't a slow or reflectively melancholy reading--in fact, the first movement is quicker (if only marginally) than Karajan's two previous recordings for EMI and DG, both with the Berlin Phil. By comparison, the Vienna Phil. sounds sweeter, never bombastic, incapable of a brash phrase. The recording sounds so alive and present that one could swear it was a concert performance, but apparently it wasn't. In any case, the orchestral execution is more animated and fresher sounding than on Karajan's two previous readings.
The conductor always favored whispering pianissimos and thunderous, though controlled, fortissimos. Here those contrasts are reduced; The music tends to stay in an average dynamic range until a climactic swell is called for. This evenness of tone gives the reading a flowing quality, which is enhanced by Karajan's refusal to use the start-and-stop phrasing so common with other conductors in Bruckner. The great slow movement is especially free and spontaneous, not at all funereal even if the composer was moved by Wagner's recent death. This memorial to his greatest hero is sublime rather than grieving.
With so many special qualities, it's hard not to declare that this is Karajan's greatest Bruckner Seventh recording. In terms of freshness and a singing line, only the live Giulini performance from London (on BBC Legends) comes close to it in my experience. Highly, highly recommended.
P.S. May, 2009 - For anyone who's interested, I've added a more detailed comparison among Karajan's three Bruckner Sevenths in the comments section. It pleases me that so many five-star reviews have accumulated in the passing years.