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on 9 August 2017
I never warmed to the Capriccio Italian until now! It always sounded second rate to me but having heard what Karajan and the BPO find in it I have completely changed my mind: they play it for all its worth and the result is wonderful!.
I have had a soft spot for the first three symphonies for a long time and of course these are superlative, beautiful performances which I find very moving, nevertheless it is the performance of the Capriccio which really catches fire and is worth the price just for that, include the symphonies and it is a bargain - buy it!
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on 16 July 2015
Delighted to get these excellent Karajan recordings of Tchaikovsky`s early symphonies , which now take precedence over the ones I had by Maurice Abravanel and the Utah Symphony Orchestra .
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on 5 June 2017
Von Karajan's architectural, unsentimental rendering of Tchaikovsky's wonderful variety and colour is perfect, as always.
Buyers however should be careful with the annotations on the disc and the digital counterpart - on my disc both discs had the same annotations.
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on 26 March 2017
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on 1 May 2017
Beautifully recorded robust performances.
Sadly, arrived in broken double CD cases. Cardboard on its own doesn't protect plastic !
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on 24 February 2011
I have had these discs for some months now but have only recently come to fully appreciate their qualities. Firstly you need to turn up the volume level a bit more than usual because the recording level seems lower than many discs. Once this is done the sound is very good with fine separation of instruments and a wide dynamic range. These first three symphonies are generally thought lesser than the three that follow. They are probably less confident in the writing but they contain wonderful music nevertheless. These performances by the BPO under Karajan do not overplay the simple passages but can blaze out when required and some of the solo woodwind playing is superb. There are several versions of these symphonies available today from Russian orchestras and these must be considered. However, Karajan and the BPO (despite the vintage) take some beating.
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on 24 August 2015
As we all know, Herbert von Karajan both performed and recorded the last three Tchaikovsky symphonies on an almost daily basis !!! Achieving an almost terrifying power in the Pathétique and superb mastery in the other two. However, it would seem that Karajan only ventured into the first three for the DGG “Symphony Edition.” They did not feature in his concert programmes or his recordings. These are the only Karajan versions of Symphonies 1 – 3.

Not that is necessarily a bad thing ! It is often difficult to tell the difference between some of his recordings of the last three symphonies. And Karajan was a top conductor and the Berlin Philharmonic probably the world’s finest orchestra, so any performance by this team will always be worth hearing. And, in the opinion of most critics, Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic go straight to the top of the list. When these recordings were made, Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic were at the height of their very considerable powers with playing of almost supernatural quality.

But we should make a few reservations. Herbert von Karajan, much to many people’s surprise, needed to feel “safe” with music he conducted, he needed to know it very well. He was often slightly “uncertain” in unfamiliar territory ! Which perhaps is why he never “swept the board” with Mahler: despite his own claims to the contrary, he just did not know Mahler’s music very well. Karajan’s career started in the Third Reich and, obviously, as a Jew, Mahler’s music was totally banned. Just before Karajan died, a complete cycle of Mahler symphonies was planned and that might have swept the board since Karajan, gradually, was getting “in” to Mahler. There were some good performances as he began to understand the music.

And there is some hesitance to these Tchaikovsky performances. Anyone looking for the amazing confidence and shattering power of Karajan’s performances of the last three symphonies will be disappointed ! But, then, of course, the music itself is not on the same level. So, the performances are slightly hesitant and tentative and do not have the drive and sweep of Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic at their best. Let alone the power.

On the other hand, Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic were one of the finest orchestral partnerships in the history of mankind so anyone buying this set is unlikely to be disappointed. You don’t get playing like this every day of the week !

Is there a better buy ? Well, probably but I am not an expert on Tchaikovsky’s first three symphonies either ! Some people have suggested that Jansons is a better bet; I don’t know. As ever, you are unlikely to be disappointed with Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic, which is probably why he was the best selling artist in history: he was reliable. But there is no doubt at all that his recording of the first three symphonies lacks the confidence and brilliance of the last three which he obviously knew upside down, inside and backwards with sometimes almost terrifying power !
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on 14 January 2012
A conductor's greatest strength is almost always his great weakness. In the case of Karajan, his unparalleled gifts of concentration and vision can cause him to sometimes miss the fun and humor in the music. And charm is a desired ingredient in the early Tchaikovsky symphonies. These early symphonies are bursting with bright spirits, but Karajan isn't going to try to elaborate on this side of the masterpieces. Hardly any effort is expended with a goal of enriching the youthful daintiness that Tchaikovsky incorporated into his scores.

For some, this lack of charm spells doom for Karajan. I can easily understand those who find this a total failure. I don't think civility is what Tchaikovsky had in mind when he wrote those works, but Karajan seems to think so. But the absence of charm isn't the same as the absence of interesting ideas. Karajan certainly does have plenty of ideas. His great ability of recognizing the long flow of drama in the music is decidedly present. Rather than treating these symphonies as the youthful ideas of a young composer, Karajan makes the music very confident. He's anxious that Tchaikovsky be given the benefit of the doubt, so he gives the music the same power and breadth that he would give to Bruckner, or the latter Tchaikovsky symphonies, for that matter. And with an orchestra of the caliber of Berlin, all of his visions come alive seething with grandeur. Far from anemic music making, Karajan achieves a tight intensity of control, with the Berliners' digging into their music as if their lives depended on it.

Some see Karajan's approach as one that tames these symphonies. In a sense they're right, because most of the entertaining aspects of the music are suppressed. One isn't likely to smile while listening to Karajan's tightly contained control. But on the other hand, Karajan is unleashing such sweeping power that the symphonies are especially big in scope. This results in playing that is civilized but never casual or weak--never. To my ears, Karajan fits the 2nd symphony better than the rest, but all sound interesting.

In closing, Karajan has missed one of the most important ingredients in these symphonies, but he's replaced everything that is missing with astonishing power and vigor. One thing's certain: you won't be falling asleep listening music making this majestic.
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on 5 October 2011
I have tried the already classic Jansons versions of these three earlier and often neglected works, but it was only Karajan that convinced me that this is worthy symphonic music in its own right. The Slavonic hysteria may be underplayed, but Karajan gives these works symphonic cohesion and for all their excellence, Jansons and his Oslo Orchestra cannot quite match the sheer opulence of the Berlin Philharmonic. Quite superb.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 22 August 2015
DG's 2-CD albums in their distinctively-labelled jewel cases are usually both excellent value and (more importantly) great recordings. This offering by Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic is no exception, with a generous filling of the first three symphonies plus very welcome filler in the shape of "Marche Slave" and "Capriccio Italien". The conducting is as precise as I'd expect from Karajan, and the BPO more than meet the demands on them. Recording quality is fine.

This would serve well as your only copy of these works, or a worthy addition to your collection if you have versions by other conductors and orchestras.

Also recommended is the companion 2-CD album Tchaikovsky: Symphonies 4, 5 & 6 "Pathétique" that includes the last three symphonies.
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