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Central repertoire, central performances, central recommendations. Karajan recorded these works on numerous occasions, but these represent his fastidious approach at its very best. The 1964 Debussy and Mussorgsky are classics and worth a place in any collection. Others have made La Mer
a more graphic depiction of elemental forces, but no one else gets this degree of beauty and sensuality from the piece. Karajan is not yet at the stage where beauty precludes spontaneity; there's a strong emotional current at work here, notably in the blazing chorale which closes the outer movements. Pictures At An Exhibition
has a similar degree of character and attention to detail: don't expect earthy peasant imagery, absent from Ravel's orchestration in any case, but thrill to the sound of a great orchestra on blazing form in "The Great Gate of Kiev". Bolero
is everything you would expect from Karajan--its vast unfolding crescendo rigorously controlled, its climactic key change calculated to a degree. Nothing left to chance, but an orchestral tour-de-force all the same. --Richard Whitehouse