on 26 August 2007
Surprisingly, there are not many recordings of Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings, such a wonderful masterpiece, and even less great recordings. Stokowski made a fine recording with Philips in 70s (now released as SACD/Pentatone). It is beautifully played with grace and sumptuous sound, but it lacks extra power and passion Karajan and Ormandy breathes into the music.
Karajan's DG version has far better sound quality than Ormandy's Sony recording, and Karajan surpasses Ormandy in the masterful way he captures subtle tempo changes and the ebb and flow of the music. Coupled with also outstanding recording of Dvorak's Serenade, this must be one of the great recordings by Karajan.
on 2 November 2012
Isn't there a desire in each of us to lead a more sacred life? To shed materiality and concupiscence, leaving one's face "close to the points of a star"? The string serenades of Dvorak and Tchaikovsky give voice to this aspiration. There is a purity to both works which refreshes the spirit. Transfiguration looms.
Herbie recorded the Tchaikovsky twice. This is his second recording whereas it is his only reckoning with the Dvorak. Opulence abounds. The timbre of the Berlin Philharmonic is lush beyond measure - for instance, the recapitulation in the first movement of the Dvorak (3'01"ff) constitutes one of the great moments in its history. Karajan, master of the infinitesimal delay, weaves his magic in the comparable movement of the Tchaikovsky thereby suspending time and breath. And who does not want to take to the ballroom for the duration of the Waltz and beyond?
Committed to disc in December 1980, these performances have never been remastered. Why should they be?
The only possible basis for objecting to this sumptuous pairing of two great Slavic string masterpieces is if you are for some unaccountable reason allergic to the purring, V8 sound of the Berlin strings, who milk the gorgeous harmonies for all they're worth.
There are other, worthy recordings but not as many as you'd think: I've bumbled along nicely for years with the Naxos recording of the Tchaikovsky, played by the Vienna Chamber Orchestra under Philippe Entremont and the Dvorak on the Pickwick IMP recording as recommended by the Penguin Guide years ago, with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under the excellent Jaime Laredo and both are really very nice in good digital sound, but the extra refinement and (to borrow a fellow reviewer's favourite word, torque the Berliners generate makes a difference. There are also good recordings under such as Marriner but this combination under Karajan is like an advertisement for the kind of sound he cultivated.
One Amazon.com reviewer complains that a slip by the strings on track 6 spoils the whole recording. It clearly did not bother Karajan unduly, who despite his fearsome reputation was prepared to tolerate minor mistakes in an otherwise satisfactory result, as the recent sympathetic TV biopic showed when he was recording Strauss. Otherwise, the sheen and elegance of the band here are a joy.