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If I have to pick one Karajan CD as my desert island disc, this is the one. His earlier stereo recording of Tod & Verklarung and Metamorphosen is impressive in its own way, but this digital version surpasses it. In the both works, the way Karajan captures all subtle nuances and ebb and flow in the music verges on the miraculous.

In Tod & Verklarung, BPO's woodwinds play like a dream, brass is gloriously vivid, strings make heavenly sound, bass is always emphasized to create depth and grandeur. The music culminates in mind blowingly overwhelmming, massive finale with extra thrust which other conductors always fail to add. As far as I know Reiner and Jarvi come very close to Karajan's account, and Abbado made outstanding recording with DG (sadly deleted) with even greater ending, but overall this recording towers over the rest for the sheer richness and the depth of music making.

I don't know why, but each time I listen to this particular recording of Metamorphosen, the final scene in Hesse's Demian (of the soldier dying in a battle place) comes to my mind. Under Karajan, the whole music becomes a kaleidoscope of flashbacks seen by a dying soldier. Karajan, who must have witnessed the devastation of war-torn Berlin himself, captures this elegiac atmosphere like no other conductors. The timing of the awe-inspiring moment of silence - just before the final climax - is perfect! The brisk tempo increases the sense of urgency and the trance-like intensity.

Both performances are beautifully recorded with huge dynamic range and sumptuous sound quality.

If you'd like to explore different recordings of the works, Karajan's DECCA version of T&V, Fritz Reiner's DECCA&RCA Living Stereo recordings, Abbado, Ashkenazy and Jarvi's digital recordings, and Klemperer's very unique account of Metamorphosen are well worth listening. Maazel also made outstanding RCA recording of T&V together with amazing recordings of Strauss' other Tone Poems.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 4 September 2012
Richard Strauss composed several orchestral tone poems during the 70 years of his life. The earliest was the `Festmarsch No. 1' of 1876 when Strauss was only 12. The last was one of the pieces featured here - `Metamorphoses, a Study in c minor for 23 Solo Strings' composed in 1945. The source of inspiration when the piece was begun in 1943 was the destruction by Allied bombing of the Munich Opera House, where so many of his compositions had been premiered. Strauss was always a master of orchestral colour but, even limited to just the strings, he produced a magnificent work here. I know of no better interpretation that that on this CD by Herbert von Karajan with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. It is a lament for the destruction of a vital piece of a nation's cultural heritage. The funeral march from Beethoven's 3rd Symphony (`Eroica') appears in the work with the inscription in the score of `In Memoriam'.

The other work on the CD is something along the same lines - Death and Transfiguration, as happened to the Munich Opera House. This was composed 1889/90 with a detailed programmatic description. With the same idea as Sibelius' `Valse triste', it tells the story of a man on his deathbed recalling his youthful adventures and love affairs. After his death, his soul passes into spirit `to find, gloriously achieved in eternity, those ideals which could not be fulfilled here below'. Now Strauss has the full orchestra at his disposal and what a wonderful job he makes of using it. Highly recommended.
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on 13 January 2015
It's almost pointless to praise a recording so celebrated and renowned throughout the lands. If civilisation does not fail, this digital Metamorphosen from September 1980 will resonate down the ages - and the Death and Transfiguration from January 1982 won't be far behind. The former in particular could be considered Karajan's greatest recording. It has never been remastered - nor does it need to be.

Herbie twice recorded Opus 24. They're both world-beaters. I prefer the analogue performance from 1973; to my ears, the acoustic of the Jesus Christus Church trumps the Philharmonie once again. The later performance, as we all know, has been remastered in the Gold series (Strauss: Ein Heldenleben, Tod und Verklarung). Even so, there is not a lot of difference between them sonically.

Metamorphosen is a requiem in everything but name. "One People, One Nation, One Heap of Rubble" as the Edelweiss Pirates so pithily inscribed in charcoal on hot stones. Karajan told Varnay that Strauss' Elektra left him exhausted and emotionally drained for days on end. If so, you wonder how long it took him to recover from this brute. Perhaps that's the raison d'etre of Eliette von Karajan's hideous paintings: to avert the Bends. Where else is one to find such grip? The opulence of the Berlin Philharmonic is a wonder of the world even as it descends like debris into the abyss. This is not an easy listen. It's not something that one simply throws on to pass the time. To my mind, the passage that occurs at 19'50" where the four note motif is passed from one string-group to another is the Horror that cannot be named, let alone endured by flesh and blood. Is thought possible when the ghost of the Eroica makes an appearance? Catharsis ensues but redemptive it ain't in the sepulchral gloom. Lock the lid. The rest is silence and ash.

Sadly, we live in the world where there are ever-new applications of this utterance. Arm yourself.
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on 31 May 2002
The performance on this CD of Metamorphosen is virtually unsurpassed. Karajan and the BPO are masters of tonal refinement. The main difference between Karajan's version of Metamorphosen and the other great performances (such as the mighty Klemperer's) is the sound and polish of the strings. Sound and beauty for beauty for their own sake is something Karajan has often been criticised for, but I think it's what made him great. He could take music beyond what was written and make it beautifully refined and gloriously performed with his BPO. Metamorphosen was written at the end of and immediately after WWII and every breath sighs with regret and remorse. Often, each instrument (of the 23 strings this work was written for - not for design reasons but for limitations in the players available to perform it at the end of the war) is given a solo part and the sheer texture and tones created are awesome. Sometimes, the themes come togother, interweaving in powerful unity and transcend sorrow reaching up into stunningly beautiful passages.
Tod und Verklärung is my favourite of Strauss' tone poems. Listening to it should be done only when alone, when doing nothing else, and at full volume. Only then will the experience be complete. It is quite simply breathtaking. I don't think a piece of music (save Wagner's Leibestod in Tristan und Isolde) has ever come close to capturing 'Death and Transfiguration' (the English translation of its title) - literally. It is impossible to write of the sheer power and beauty that this music contains, given its greatest (ignore anyone else who says otherwise) ever performance by Karajan and the BPO. He ennobles the final transformation theme at the end with a unique restrained ecstasy.
This CD proves not only that Karajan was master of these pieces as was the BPO, but that he was master of Strauss' music. There has never been anyone so able to communicate Strauss with such masterly authority. A stunning CD.
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on 7 December 2014
One of Karajan's greatest records, surpassing his earlier versions of these Strauss works. They are deeply felt, beautifully played and exceptionally well captured.
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on 19 September 2015
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on 21 January 2016
In reality, the music will have sounded fine, but on this recording it's terrible! It's a destitute recording, the violins are like bulldozers, there's no sound depth, it's all very harsh. And that's a pity because these works are beautiful, and I hope there will be future recordings with excellent​ sound engineering.
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