Decca has kept Karajan's opera recordings in print but been very sketchy wth his orchestral work for their label. Compared with his hundreds of releases for EMI and DG, Karajan made about a dozen hours of symphonic recordings for Decca in a brief span between 1959 and 1965, but they are special because all feature the Vienna Phil. This was Karajan's second orchestra, as it was for Furtwangler before him. But that's not to imply that there was lack of affinity between conductor and musicians: Karajan was an Austrian, after all, and to my mind the stylistic match is perfect. The delicious string tone in the Dvorak 8th, for example, could only be Viennese, and Karajan is isnpired to give a warm, flexible reading -- his best on disc. There are drawbacks, however, as in a Brahms First that seems mushy and mannered, a surprise from this master Brahmsian.
These 9 CDs are offered at super-budget price (cheaper than Naxos!), and each deserves five stars, with the possible exception of the Haydn "Drumroll" and "London" symphonies, which sound overblown and outdated, however elegant Karajan's touch may be. For many the high point will be the Strauss recordings, both Johann and Richard. This famous Zarathustra still sounds magnificent, but so do Don Juan, Till Eulenspiegel, and the Johann Strauss items. Almost without exception these readings are warmer than those from Berlin, and Karajan's tendency toward glossy surfaces at the expense of meaning is not in evidence. As one would expect from Decca, the sonics are excellent, and I'm glad that the producers didn't scrub out so much tape hiss that the treble was compromised. Strangely, there's no indication of any remastering, even though at least half these performances have previously appeared -- or currently appear -- in updated versions.
The complete listing of works is as follows:
Symphony No.1 in C minor, Op.68
Symphony No.3 in F major, Op.90
Tragic Overture, Op.81
Symphony No.103 in E flat major, "Drumroll"
Symphony No.104 in D major, "London"
Symphony No.40 in G minor, K550
Symphony No.41 in C major, K551 "Jupiter"
Romeo and Juliet - Fantasy Overture
Suite from "Swan Lake"
Suite from "The Nutcracker"
Suite from "Sleeping Beauty"
Symphony No.7 in A major, Op.92
Symphony No.8 in G major, Op.88
Grieg: Excerpts from "Peer Gynt" Op.23
The Planets, Op.32
J. Strauss II:
Excerpts from Die Fledermaus
Overture (Der Zigeunerbaron)
Auf der Jagd - Polka
Tales from the Vienna Woods
Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche, Op.28
Salome - Dance of the Seven Veils
Don Juan, Op.20
Tod und Verklärung, Op.24
Also sprach Zarathustra, Op.30