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Bloated, artificial and unpleasant early digital recordings. Go back to his 1960s set.
on 10 September 2017
The three phases of Karajan's re-recording career for DG are like a dog chasing its own tail. The superb 1960s analogue stereophonic soundstage set overseen as usual by Otto Gerdes is I think, as with his Beethoven, his finest. It is rhapsodic ethereal and classically poised in a way his subsequent recordings are not ending with his final 1980s version which sounds desperately striving to achieve more impact and thereby becoming brash and crude.
The 1970s sets stem partly from the fashion for four channel quadrophonic from vinyl records which never really caught on due to the high price of quad cartridges and extra equipment involved. So these prototype surround systems lapsed into ambisonic sporting rear "stereo" channels. Which is where Dolby came in a few years later with Pro Logic. It's a lusher, a fatter deeper sound, more spot miked version of analogue, but still presenting a reasonable stereophonic soundstage of a real orchestra.
As with all analogue recordings, Karajan's 1960s and 1970s records benefit from largely harmonic distortion which the listener hears from OUTSIDE the orchestra. For example the frequent congested orchestral passages at high volume level, such as shortly into the first movement of Symphony No 2, which abound in these works.
The reverse is true of this pure (early) digital Brahms symphonies on this double CD set. The inevitable distortion is just nasty noise and it comes from INSIDE the orchestra where the listener is trapped. Abandoned entirely is the stereo soundstage in any realistic sense approximating to a concert hall experience. One becomes the victim of a practice carpeting the 1980s recording industry of dubbing down so much multi-tracking to a final edited mastertape ghat all sense of realism is lost.
Along with that, there is a significant artistic loss. One exchanges grand sweeping symphonic works for a closely edited patchwork of gestures and point making without any sense of an orchestra playing as a unit in a three dimensional space. In particular, the famous Berlin Phil strings have all the beauty and character of float glass in the early digital format. Look elsewhere in the catalogue - or go back to live music in the concert hall.
Compare (for pennies) these travesty of recordings with the 1970/73 Philips Silverline Classics recordings of 2 and 3 by Haitink and the Concertgebouw (426 632-2) and what I have been saying will become crystal clear: without the "pure" digital.