What do you like or dislike about HvK?

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CharmNewton
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Re: What do you like or dislike about HvK?

Post by CharmNewton » Sat Dec 25, 2010 9:55 am

Heck148 wrote:
dirkronk wrote: Me, I'll take Walter/ColSO over just about any others out there;
Reiner/CSO for me, a wonderful recording...
Do you have the Gold Seal issue (coupled with Symphony No. 1) or the JVC XRCD issue? I'm curious how the latter sounds as I'm not happy with the recording quality on the other--sounds too much like the Dynagroove LP. As far as I know there two were the only CD issues inthe U.S.

John

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Re: What do you like or dislike about HvK?

Post by Heck148 » Sat Dec 25, 2010 1:02 pm

CharmNewton wrote:
Heck148 wrote:
dirkronk wrote: Me, I'll take Walter/ColSO over just about any others out there;
Reiner/CSO for me, a wonderful recording...
Do you have the Gold Seal issue (coupled with Symphony No. 1) or the JVC XRCD issue?
Yes, the one Gold Seal one coupled with Sym#1.

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Re: What do you like or dislike about HvK?

Post by Ken » Tue Dec 28, 2010 3:51 pm

I'm chiming in a bit late on this discussion... To me, Karajan--at least the Karajan of the post-Philharmonia days--takes getting used to, and even after having accustomed oneself to the conductor's hypertrophied sound, it sometimes fails the listener to appreciate his mastery. I can fairly confidently say that I dislike his Brahms Symphony sets with the BPO/WPO because of their somewhat faulty orchestral balances and inconsistent tempi. At this point, however, the "Karajan's-phonic-veil" thing was in full swing. Compare these sets with his vivid recordings of the Brahms Symphonies with the Philharmonia Orchestra--same basic mental stuff happening, the only difference is the degree to which his ideas are exhibited and exaggerated.

I've not ever cared much for his Schumann--he seems to be holding back with the interpretations--though repeated listenings of his earlier mono recording of the D-minor Symphony have convinced me that he had quite a good grasp of the composer's narrative style and was obviously aware of the contextual situation in which Schumann wrote and revised the work. It's somewhat of a shame that he let his tendency to suppress dynamic extravagence (especially in the brass and winds) blunt his otherwise very cerebral and intelligent readings of this work. Somewhat of a prisoner here to his own artistic framework.

On the other hand, one repeatedly stumbles across exceptions to the rule with Karajan, if only because his recorded output was so immense. The dynamism and spirit of his Prokofiev surprises me, much in the same manner as his early-ish BPO recordings of Bartók. And somehow the exaggerated cleanliness of his mid-70s recordings of Sibelius with EMI, at a point in time at which his close-micing (or even micing of individual instruments) and extreme after-production ran rampant, seems to fit the bill quite well. Nos. 4 and 5 are most impressive.

With Karajan, I believe the listener needs to keep in mind that he'll be hearing "Karajan/Brahms" or "Karajan/Sibelius" or "Karajan/Walton" (which apparently exists) and not a raw interpretation of the Urtext--I have the same feeling about Solti. If one can make themselves comfortable within this very idiosyncratic aesthetic, the listening experience can be enjoyable.
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Re: What do you like or dislike about HvK?

Post by Ken » Tue Dec 28, 2010 3:56 pm

I forgot to mention that one of the things that I will always like about Karajan is the epic coiffure. I strive to one day have a 'do the likes of his. :wink:
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Re: What do you like or dislike about HvK?

Post by Holden Fourth » Tue Dec 28, 2010 4:18 pm

Ken wrote:I forgot to mention that one of the things that I will always like about Karajan is the epic coiffure. I strive to one day have a 'do the likes of his. :wink:
Hence his nickname of 'Fluffy'.

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Re: What do you like or dislike about HvK?

Post by dirkronk » Tue Dec 28, 2010 5:19 pm

Holden Fourth wrote:
Ken wrote:I forgot to mention that one of the things that I will always like about Karajan is the epic coiffure. I strive to one day have a 'do the likes of his. :wink:
Hence his nickname of 'Fluffy'.

Yes, along with "Hairbert" and simply "The Great Coifed One." I was wont to refer to him in these terms a few years back.
:roll:

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Re: What do you like or dislike about HvK?

Post by Chalkperson » Tue Dec 28, 2010 9:53 pm

I liked the story about how members of the Orchestra were told that they did not have to rise when HVK came to Board the Plane at the Airport, not because he did not want them to stand up like they usually did, but, so that people would not realize how short he was... :lol:
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Re: What do you like or dislike about HvK?

Post by Heck148 » Tue Dec 28, 2010 10:26 pm

Chalkperson wrote:I liked the story about how members of the Orchestra were told that they did not have to rise when HVK came to Board the Plane at the Airport, not because he did not want them to stand up like they usually did, but, so that people would not realize how short he was... :lol:
A member of the Royal Choral Society told a funny story about HvK, when he ws conducting one of the London Orchestras...

he mounted the podium, closed his eyes, gave a very meticulous downbeat...and...SILENCE!! nothing!! nobody played!!

the orchestra did just as he did - they had all closed their eyes!! :lol: :lol: :lol:

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Re: What do you like or dislike about HvK?

Post by John F » Wed Dec 29, 2010 12:06 am

Karajan's esthetic was centered on beauty and refinement of sound, as a virtue in its own right. Beauty is in the ear of the beholder, of course, and for Karajan it evidently had a lot to do with smoothness and homogeneity of texture, with no sacrifice of precision (as effortless as possible) and rhythmic vitality. This is not the best approach to all music, of course, but no musician is at his/her best in all music. I doubt that "Die Walküre" or "Parsifal" can ever have been more ravishing to the ear than in Karajan's recordings, and I'd say the same of "Così fan tutte" as well.

This esthetic can also be seen in Karajan's choice of repertoire, especially on records. Beyond a certain point in his career he could have recorded any music he wished, so it's interesting to consider what music he avoided. He did very little Stravinsky, as you might expect, and mostly pieces that sound well in the Karajan style - though there is a "Sacre du Printemps," indeed two of them. Of Bartók, only the Concerto for Orchestra and the Music for Strings Percussion and Celesta; of Hindemith, only the Mathis der Maler symphony; of Shostakovich, only the 10th Symphony; and of the Second Vienna School, only the 3-disc album of the '70s, which was mainly the composers' post-Romantic music rather than their more modernistic pieces.

Karajan was able to impose his esthetic of sound most completely on his own orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic, and on his preferred recording producers and engineers, notably Michel Glotz. (The Philharmonia was Walter Legge's orchestra, not Karajan's, and Legge was not one to surrender to the wishes even of a Karajan; the Vienna Philharmonic is determinedly independent.) You might feel that eventually it was all too much, that refinement became overrefinement and a kind of decadence. Personally I don't think it ever went that far. Whatever, it seems to me that any vices that Karajan's music-making might be charged with, were essentially virtues carried to excess.

On a side issue: there's really far too much talk here and elsewhere about Karajan conducting with his eyes closed. If you watch the videos - not the staged ones he conducted for the cameras but those of live performance - sometimes the eyes are closed, often they aren't, usually you can't tell (he was never one to bug his eyes out), and anyway, so what? His players were never in doubt about what was wanted from them, and rarely failed to give it.



Karajan always got remarkable playing from whatever orchestra he conducted - even the Metropolitan Opera orchestra in the late '60s when it was at a particularly low ebb. These complaints are as beside the point as complaining about Furtwängler's or Klemperer's beat. What matters is the results.
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Re: What do you like or dislike about HvK?

Post by Fergus » Wed Dec 29, 2010 4:38 am

One will never please all of the people all of the time obviously but here is another thought to pause and ponder over....how many people both here and in the general listening public would like to revert to von Karajan (if it were possible of course) or to someone else of his resolute strength of vision conducting the BPO (undoubtedly one of the more superior orchestras in the world) over its present incumbent?

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Re: What do you like or dislike about HvK?

Post by Seán » Wed Dec 29, 2010 5:14 am

Fergus wrote:One will never please all of the people all of the time obviously but here is another thought to pause and ponder over....how many people both here and in the general listening public would like to revert to von Karajan (if it were possible of course) or to someone else of his resolute strength of vision conducting the BPO (undoubtedly one of the more superior orchestras in the world) over its present incumbent?
I would!
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Re: What do you like or dislike about HvK?

Post by Chalkperson » Wed Dec 29, 2010 5:52 am

Fergus wrote:One will never please all of the people all of the time obviously but here is another thought to pause and ponder over....how many people both here and in the general listening public would like to revert to von Karajan (if it were possible of course) or to someone else of his resolute strength of vision conducting the BPO (undoubtedly one of the more superior orchestras in the world) over its present incumbent?
If you mean having that having a dead man on the podium, Conducting the BPO instead of Le Rat, surely that will produce far better playing than under it's present Maestro...
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Re: What do you like or dislike about HvK?

Post by Seán » Wed Dec 29, 2010 6:37 am

Chalkperson wrote:
Fergus wrote:One will never please all of the people all of the time obviously but here is another thought to pause and ponder over....how many people both here and in the general listening public would like to revert to von Karajan (if it were possible of course) or to someone else of his resolute strength of vision conducting the BPO (undoubtedly one of the more superior orchestras in the world) over its present incumbent?
If you mean having that having a dead man on the podium, Conducting the BPO instead of Le Rat, surely that will produce far better playing than under it's present Maestro...
Oh if only Claudio Abbado had stayed with the BPO. :cry: He was a fitting successor to HvK.
Seán

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Re: What do you like or dislike about HvK?

Post by John F » Wed Dec 29, 2010 6:39 am

Fergus wrote:One will never please all of the people all of the time obviously but here is another thought to pause and ponder over....how many people both here and in the general listening public would like to revert to von Karajan (if it were possible of course) or to someone else of his resolute strength of vision conducting the BPO (undoubtedly one of the more superior orchestras in the world) over its present incumbent?
Apparently, not many in the orchestra itself - they selected him in the first place and recently voted to retain him when his contract expires in 2012. What we, or the Philharmonic's subscription audience, or "the general listening public" however you define it, might otherwise prefer, would go against the orchestra's own preference.

Besides, there are no more dictators of the baton in the old style. When Karajan tried to impose his will on the orchestra in 1982 by hiring Sabine Meyer as principal clarinet, this damaged his relationship with the orchestra beyond repair. The players were unable to block the appointment, but they rejected Meyer as soon as they could by voting her out at the end of her probation. When Karajan finally died, the players made sure to choose the opposite kind of personality to succeed him, Claudio Abbado, and then Simon Rattle. Karajan had been elected the orchestra's conductor for life, following historical precedents. but there will be no more conductors for life at the Philharmonic. If he were in mid-career today, Karajan himself couldn't be a Karajan. Conductors are no longer able to write their own ticket.

Even with a wholly self-governing orchestra, as Rattle insisted the BPO become as a condition of accepting the post, there's much more to a music director's responsibilities and qualifications than conducting a certain number of performances and choosing the repertoire for them. One requirement is that he/she be loyal to the orchestra; another is that he be dependable. Karajan was both until his last years. Simon Rattle proved that he was both by his 18 years with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, despite attempts by more prestigious ensembles to lure him away.

What major conductors today meet these requirements? James Levine has been loyal to the Metropolitan Opera for decades, but he's no longer dependable because of his frequent health problems in recent years. Christian Thielemann is healthy enough but his career has been marked by a series of noisy resignations from one post after another - no loyalty there. Daniel Barenboim, who has also been mentioned as a possible BPO music director, might qualify, but the orchestra passed him over for Rattle. Any other suggestions?

Nostalgia is all very well. Some of us would love it even more if the orchestra could revert to Karajan's predecessor, Wilhelm Furtwängler, or even his predecessor, Artur Nikisch, whose great reputation and few but significant recordings are tantalizing. No harm in daydreaming, certainly. But eventually we have to wake up.
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Re: What do you like or dislike about HvK?

Post by Seán » Wed Dec 29, 2010 6:52 am

John F wrote:
Fergus wrote:One will never please all of the people all of the time obviously but here is another thought to pause and ponder over....how many people both here and in the general listening public would like to revert to von Karajan (if it were possible of course) or to someone else of his resolute strength of vision conducting the BPO (undoubtedly one of the more superior orchestras in the world) over its present incumbent?
Apparently, not many in the orchestra itself - they selected him in the first place and recently voted to retain him when his contract expires in 2012. What we, or the Philharmonic's subscription audience, or "the general listening public" however you define it, might otherwise prefer, would go against the orchestra's own preference.

Besides, there are no more dictators of the baton in the old style. When Karajan tried to impose his will on the orchestra in 1982 by hiring Sabine Meyer as principal clarinet, this damaged his relationship with the orchestra beyond repair. The players were unable to block the appointment, but they rejected Meyer as soon as they could by voting her out at the end of her probation. When Karajan finally died, the players made sure to choose the opposite kind of personality to succeed him, Claudio Abbado, and then Simon Rattle. Karajan had been elected the orchestra's conductor for life, following historical precedents. but there will be no more conductors for life at the Philharmonic. If he were in mid-career today, Karajan himself couldn't be a Karajan. Conductors are no longer able to write their own ticket.

Even with a wholly self-governing orchestra, as Rattle insisted the BPO become as a condition of accepting the post, there's much more to a music director's responsibilities and qualifications than conducting a certain number of performances and choosing the repertoire for them. One requirement is that he/she be loyal to the orchestra; another is that he be dependable. Karajan was both until his last years. Simon Rattle proved that he was both by his 18 years with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, despite attempts by more prestigious ensembles to lure him away.

What major conductors today meet these requirements? James Levine has been loyal to the Metropolitan Opera for decades, but he's no longer dependable because of his frequent health problems in recent years. Christian Thielemann is healthy enough but his career has been marked by a series of noisy resignations from one post after another - no loyalty there. Daniel Barenboim, who has also been mentioned as a possible BPO music director, might qualify, but the orchestra passed him over for Rattle. Any other suggestions?

Nostalgia is all very well. Some of us would love it even more if the orchestra could revert to Karajan's predecessor, Wilhelm Furtwängler, or even his predecessor, Artur Nikisch, whose great reputation and few but significant recordings are tantalizing. No harm in daydreaming, certainly. But eventually we have to wake up.
That's a very good post, John and rest assured that we are wide awake to SSRattle and the BPO and as a consequence we don't buy their CDs.
Seán

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Re: What do you like or dislike about HvK?

Post by John F » Wed Dec 29, 2010 7:02 am

Seems like a fair number here feel much the same about Karajan and his recordings. Chacun a son gout.
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Re: What do you like or dislike about HvK?

Post by Fergus » Wed Dec 29, 2010 8:39 am

What an interesting discussion is developing here....well done John on a very fine post 8)

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Re: What do you like or dislike about HvK?

Post by Fergus » Wed Dec 29, 2010 8:41 am

Chalkperson wrote:If you mean having that having a dead man on the podium, Conducting the BPO instead of Le Rat, surely that will produce far better playing than under it's present Maestro...
Chalkie is still hallucinating I fear with visions of dead men conducting....Symphonie Fantastique perhaps :lol:

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Re: What do you like or dislike about HvK?

Post by maestrob » Wed Dec 29, 2010 11:04 am

Being loyal to a weak conductor can have many explanations, not the least would be contempt for the audience (Oh, THEY won't notice the difference, a concert is only a social occasion, etc.). That kind of attitude really ticks me off, and it makes me VERY careful about which recordings I buy these days, while avoiding certain maestros altogether because I simply don't trust them.

Rattle and Maazel started off well enough, but became egotistical and mannered as their careers advanced: this is not music-making I enjoy. OTOH, there are many conductors with lesser ranked orchestras that make very fine music, according to my taste, so I buy these discs. What's rare these days is a recording with a great orchestra coupled with a famous conductor that works for me: where's the excitement, the electricity of a great maestro with "his/her" orchestra these days? It's all done by committee, and if the conductor's not popular with the orchestra, he gets sabotaged and dumped (witness Eschenbach in Philadelphia).

There's no authority there anymore in the hands of conductors, and without that ultimate authority, no maestro can push even a great orchestra to its limits. THAT's how great music is made, and I miss it terribly most of the time.

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Re: What do you like or dislike about HvK?

Post by Heck148 » Wed Dec 29, 2010 12:44 pm

John F wrote:On a side issue: there's really far too much talk here and elsewhere about Karajan conducting with his eyes closed..... anyway, so what? His players were never in doubt about what was wanted from them, and rarely failed to give it.
no, it is an important point regarding conducting technique - eye contact is one of the most basic ,perhaps THE most basic communication channel between conductor and musicians...to deny this important channel is going to produce negative results - a tentative, disconnected response from musicians. it is also extremely disrespectful to the musicians - the conductor simply cannot be bothered, or does not choose, to look at a musician as he/she prepares to enter on an important solo...it indicates an ego-centricity - as if the conductor himself is the all-important element in the performance, even tho the maestro produces no sound whatever...
I know that many musicians consider this a technical flaw that robs his performances/recordings of a spontaneity, a freedom of expression, a spur of the moment excitement.

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Re: What do you like or dislike about HvK?

Post by John F » Wed Dec 29, 2010 7:45 pm

Heck148 wrote:
John F wrote:On a side issue: there's really far too much talk here and elsewhere about Karajan conducting with his eyes closed..... anyway, so what? His players were never in doubt about what was wanted from them, and rarely failed to give it.
no, it is an important point regarding conducting technique - eye contact is one of the most basic, perhaps THE most basic communication channel between conductor and musicians...to deny this important channel is going to produce negative results - a tentative, disconnected response from musicians.
Heck148, you're saying this about the conductor of his generation who consistently achieved the least tentative, most consistent and uniformly excellent response from his musicians. Negative results indeed! What you say - and say and say and say again - may be true of lesser conductors, but it was obviously, blatantly, indeed self-evidently not true of Herbert von Karajan, and he's the only actual conductor to whom it might apply.

As for disrespect toward the musicians, the Berlin Philharmonic players would have to speak for themselves whether they felt disrespected by their elected conductor for life. Why is it any of our business? But since you raise the issue again and again, I'll quote what one of Karajan's musicians has to say about him.

James Galway was principal flute in the BPO for five years, before leaving to pursue a solo career. His memoirs tell a number of stories about conductors, and I like this one about Zubin Mehta. Asked by Galway to give a larger beat for a passage in "Ein Heldenleben," he replied, "My dear Jimmy, I've often had requests from deaf flute players - but this is the first time I've had one from a blind one." Galway continues that he really admired Mehta; no sulking about disrespect toward himself or flute players in general, and I assume he tells us this zinger at his own expense because he enjoyed it. About Karajan, however, he says:
James Galway wrote:He was my mentor and father-figure and a great and even noble musician. Nobody else, I believe, can achieve the things he can. His main strength is that he does not conduct like a bandmaster worrying about keeping time, but in such a way that he actually moulds the music into phrases, into shapes, so that it comes out sounding the way he has heard it in his head. He is constantly advising and guiding. I remember standing beside him one day while he was playing the harpsichord in [a] Brandenburg Concerto and he turned to me and said, "Jimmy, would you mind just playing it like this." The request was couched in such a way that I could not possibly have refused it, even if I had thought he was mad. It has all to do with the expression on his face and the light in his eyes...

His gestures are rarely extravagant and he sometimes conducts with his eyes closed - "the moulding comes when the orchestra and conductor come together in a sort of union," he says.
This is the only time Galway mentions Karajan's sometimes conducting with his eyes closed, in a matter of fact way and without any tosh about HvK disrespecting him and the other Philharmoniker. If it didn't bother Galway, when he was actually there, why should it bother us?
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Re: What do you like or dislike about HvK?

Post by Chalkperson » Wed Dec 29, 2010 10:01 pm

Seán wrote:
Chalkperson wrote:
Fergus wrote:One will never please all of the people all of the time obviously but here is another thought to pause and ponder over....how many people both here and in the general listening public would like to revert to von Karajan (if it were possible of course) or to someone else of his resolute strength of vision conducting the BPO (undoubtedly one of the more superior orchestras in the world) over its present incumbent?
If you mean having that having a dead man on the podium, Conducting the BPO instead of Le Rat, surely that will produce far better playing than under it's present Maestro...
Oh if only Claudio Abbado had stayed with the BPO. :cry: He was a fitting successor to HvK.
Agreed...
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Re: What do you like or dislike about HvK?

Post by Chalkperson » Wed Dec 29, 2010 10:09 pm

maestrob wrote:Being loyal to a weak conductor can have many explanations, not the least would be contempt for the audience (Oh, THEY won't notice the difference, a concert is only a social occasion, etc.). That kind of attitude really ticks me off, and it makes me VERY careful about which recordings I buy these days, while avoiding certain maestros altogether because I simply don't trust them.
Who says that the BPO know better than their Audience, they have never sat in the Stalls and listened to the crappy way Rattie makes them play and the dull and boring noise they make, their Record Sales are way down since his tenure, shame that they can't see that themselves...Holier than Thou is a phrase that comes to mind, incestuous is another...

Of course their Guest Conductors are another matter, and are obviously not subject to the same opinion that I hold about Le Rat...
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Re: What do you like or dislike about HvK?

Post by Heck148 » Wed Dec 29, 2010 10:34 pm

="John F]Heck148, you're saying this about the conductor of his generation who consistently achieved the least tentative, most consistent and uniformly excellent response from his musicians.
not so - I find the HvK BPO recordings consistently suppressed, the throttle never advanced to full power [somebody accurately referred to the suppressed dynamics of WWs and brass] - compare with the likes of Toscanini, Reiner, Mravinsky, Solti, Bernstein, etc. who would consistently "let it rip" at the right time -full throttle at the climaxes.
HvK as you've stated was totally concerned with "beautiful sound" - fine, but sometimes the music does not want, or need "beautiful sound" - sometimes it needs aggression, nastiness, even ugliness to achieve its proper expression. HvK could never deliver this.
Negative results indeed!
yes, indeed. I find the stifled, suppressed, restricted. mono-tonous vK approach just doesn't do it for me - the eyes closed approach is severely limiting, it robs the music of a spontaneity, the spur of the moment, flash of excitement, brilliance, that other conductors achieved consistently.
As for disrespect toward the musicians, the Berlin Philharmonic players would have to speak for themselves

I don't feel like launching into the Teutonic predilection for blindly, obediently following a powerful and charismatic leader - but historically, the pattern is quite clear and well-documented.
Why is it any of our business?
it isn't, except when it comes to what we choose to listen to, or to purchase. and I, for one, find other conductors and orchesrtras far more rewarding to hear and experience.

if Galway liked him?? yippee...so what??....obviously he has his admirers, his detractors, too -Bernard Jacobsen referred to him as "an over-rated dullard" - perhaps that's a little strong, but for me, not so far off the mark.

conducting with the eyes closed will remain a technical flaw, an egotistical shortcoming that deprives the music-making process of one of its main channels of communication, and it does show a disrespect for te musicians, whether they realize it or not. . it's like trying to scale a technically demanding rock wall using only one hand, not two. the results are going to be limited.

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Re: What do you like or dislike about HvK?

Post by Heck148 » Wed Dec 29, 2010 10:41 pm

="Chalkperson"]
Seán wrote: Oh if only Claudio Abbado had stayed with the BPO. :cry: He was a fitting successor to HvK.
Agreed...
the BPO Sounded so much better under Abbado than it ever did under HvK.
the great orchestra could really produce in the vK years, also, with different conductorson the podium - I have two very excellent recordings from late 80s, 1990 - with Salonen and Mehta, conducting Prokofieff R&J, and Strauss opera excerpts...
very excellent discs,

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Re: What do you like or dislike about HvK?

Post by ContrapunctusIX » Thu Dec 30, 2010 7:45 pm

When I first began collecting, I really gravitated towards HvK and sought out his recordings. I no longer actively purchase his work, but I still listen to him in certain repertoire - particularly Strauss, Bruckner, some assorted 1960s Beethoven recordings and his 1963 Brahms 2. He also recorded one of the best Planets on record, with the VPO from the 1960s. I agree with others here who prefer his 1950s/1960s work to the syrupy, homogeneous goop which came later. While a generally solid interpreter in symphonic works, I found him to be a pretty pedestrian accompanist, really across the board irrespective of repertoire. He simply seemed to have no regard for how to phrase around a soloist, or maybe he just didn't care. I find his later recordings in particular lack edges and generally sound rather bland, and oftentimes musical architecture becomes obscured by his own aims at sound. I tend to think his later period rather spoiled critic's views of him; he more than most may have benefited from less exposure and a more focused repertoire rather than the sprawling legacy he left behind.

On a side note I find the comments about his love for Germany interesting, as his surname is in fact Greek or Aromanian in origin. One has to wonder how sincere his national pride was.
Last edited by ContrapunctusIX on Fri Dec 31, 2010 11:33 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: What do you like or dislike about HvK?

Post by Heck148 » Thu Dec 30, 2010 8:16 pm

ContrapunctusIX wrote:....I found him to be a pretty pedestrian accompanist, really across the board irrespective of repertoire. He simply seemed to have no regard for how to phrase around a soloist, or maybe he simply didn't care. I find his later recordings lack edges and generally sound rather bland, and oftentimes musical architecture becomes obscured by his own aims at sound.
well said - I concur.

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Re: What do you like or dislike about HvK?

Post by John F » Fri Dec 31, 2010 2:26 am

Heck148 wrote:if Galway liked him?? yippee...so what??
Are you kidding? You're missing or ignoring the point. It isn't that Galway liked him, but that for this player at least, Karajan conducting with his eyes closed was not an issue, and that he felt no disrespect toward himself and his fellow players from Karajan. Here's direct evidence on the point at issue, the only actual evidence yet offered, and you say, "so what?" You can't be serious.

On the other hand, you say, "I don't feel like launching into the Teutonic predilection for blindly, obediently following a powerful and charismatic leader," and then you do exactly that. Are you claiming that the Philharmoniker one and all fit this old, outdated stereotype - including those who were not German, such as James Galway? Sheesh! You're not just out on a limb here, you're hovering in thin air. :)

As a matter of fact, Galway almost didn't accept the position when the Philharmonic offered it to him. He didn't like the rude way he'd been treated by Stresemann and others during the auditions, so he told them that he would put the Philharmonic on probation for a month of playing with them, and if he didn't like it there, he would leave. This is not a man who "blindly, obediently" follows anybody!

When there are facts, let's give them proper weight. When we don't have facts, let's not try to invent them.
Heck148 wrote:conducting with the eyes closed will remain a technical flaw, an egotistical shortcoming that deprives the music-making process of one of its main channels of communication, and it does show a disrespect for te musicians, whether they realize it or not. . it's like trying to scale a technically demanding rock wall using only one hand, not two. the results are going to be limited.
You personally might feel that a conductor's occasionally closing his eyes when conducting shows disrespect to you. But have you ever actually had this experience? If not under Karajan, then under any other conductor? Or are you laying down the law based on an abstract principle, which may or may not be true in the one specific case we are discussing? This thread isn't about how to be a good conductor - a subject on which Herbert von Karajan needed no lessons from the likes of us. It's about Karajan himself.

You don't care for Karajan's recordings, and others agree with you. Fine. But you have not the slightest evidence that the artistic qualities you don't care for are in any way related to this particular aspect of Karajan's conducting technique. You may want to believe that, but you can't possibly know it, and you certainly can't prove it. Let it go.

About respect, by the way, what about the players showing proper respect for conductors? You surely know, because everybody does, that orchestral players are not respectful of every conductor who stands before them, even if they don't always express their disrespect openly to the conductor's face, as certain New York Philharmonic players famously did to Dimitri Mitropoulos. And then there was Bruno Labate's "Mistah Klemps, you talka too much." I could go on, but I don't need to. As for conductors, Fritz Reiner always conducted with his eyes open, I suppose, but does that mean he always showed respect to his players individually or en masse? There's abundant evidence that he did not.

If the subject is respect between conductor and orchestra, let's start a new thread and discuss this properly. But I don't know that there would be much interest, because as I've said, what matters to most of us is the artistic result, not the techniques by which it has been achieved.
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Re: What do you like or dislike about HvK?

Post by Heck148 » Fri Dec 31, 2010 10:11 am

John F wrote:
Heck148 wrote:if Galway liked him?? yippee...so what??
Are you kidding? You're missing or ignoring the point. It isn't that Galway liked him, but that for this player at least, Karajan conducting with his eyes closed was not an issue,
whoopee, that's one musician - for others, the eyes closed technique was a problem, and regarded as a flaw. it certainly affected the sound of the orchestra.
I just recounted a story of an entire orchestra demonstrating their negative reaction.
On the other hand, you say, "I don't feel like launching into the Teutonic predilection for blindly, obediently following a powerful and charismatic leader," and then you do exactly that. Are you claiming that the Philharmoniker one and all fit this old, outdated stereotype
who says it's old and outdated?? the BPO under HvK was perhaps the most repressed ensemble in modern times..Virtually every other major orchestra was more free-wheeling , expressive and spontaneous.
Galway is one musician out of c 85-90. did he stay with the orchestra?? No - he moved on to a solo career.
Heck148 wrote:conducting with the eyes closed will remain a technical flaw, an egotistical shortcoming that deprives the music-making process of one of its main channels of communication, and it does show a disrespect for te musicians, whether they realize it or not. . it's like trying to scale a technically demanding rock wall using only one hand, not two. the results are going to be limited.
You personally might feel that a conductor's occasionally closing his eyes when conducting shows disrespect to you. But have you ever actually had this experience?.
not with any good conductor. :D
This thread isn't about how to be a good conductor.....It's about Karajan himself.
and what we like or dislike about him - one of the things I dislike is his flawed conducting technique of conducting at length with his eyes closed, which negatively affects the performance of the music. criticizing his technique is completely germane to the discussion.

Having played for many conductors, great, good, mediocre, awful - I can tell you that failure to make eye contact with the musicians leads to inferior results - a tentativeness, a hesitancy, an uncertainty that most certainly affects the flow and the spontaneity of expression. whether thes enegative effects were caused directly by the missing eye contact?? impossible to measure quantitatively in that setting - but the end result was certainly detectable.
About respect, by the way, what about the players showing proper respect for conductors? You surely know, because everybody does, that orchestral players are not respectful of every conductor who stands before them,
this can be true in some circumstances - generally, musicians will not respect a fool who is wasting their time.
even if they don't always express their disrespect openly to the conductor's face, as certain New York Philharmonic players famously did to Dimitri Mitropoulos. And then there was Bruno Labate's "Mistah Klemps, you talka too much." ...As for conductors, Fritz Reiner always conducted with his eyes open, I suppose, but does that mean he always showed respect to his players individually or en masse? There's abundant evidence that he did not.
these past events certainly happened, and the relationshiop was considerably much more hostile. it is no longer that way. generally the respect element has increased both ways quite dramatically in the last 50 or so years....conductors aren't the tyrant/bullies of past years, orchestras have responded by generally being much more respectful of the one on the podium.
re the eyes closed, refusal to make eye contact....this is disresectful to th emusicians - it indicates an egotism, a self-centered-ness - that the conductor is the main, the only event - the musician entering with a major solo is not worth noticing, is not deserving of attention, does not merit a nod to "take it away", "do your thing". this does not encourage the musicians in any way.

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Re: What do you like or dislike about HvK?

Post by Seán » Fri Dec 31, 2010 10:22 am

Gosh! the HvK bashing continues unabated.

For what it's worth, I love his Mahler & Beethoven recordings, I really like his Bruckner, Debussy and Tchaikovsky and I find that his Sibelius leaves me cold, I find it boring. No doubt I will, over time, have strong feelings about other aspects of his work but I am happy to continue to buy and explore his recorded output.
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Re: What do you like or dislike about HvK?

Post by Barry » Fri Dec 31, 2010 10:54 am

John F wrote:... what matters to most of us is the artistic result, not the techniques by which it has been achieved.
That's what it all boils down to IMO.

Also, it should be perfectly clear that what matters most about a conductor to orchestra musicians will likely be different than what matters most to the listening public. As you say, we can focus on the finished product, and if we like it, so what if some of the musicians are unhappy with the conductor's technique.
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Re: What do you like or dislike about HvK?

Post by Heck148 » Fri Dec 31, 2010 11:14 am

Barry wrote: so what if some of the musicians are unhappy with the conductor's technique.
the listeners aren't directly concerned with conductor/musician communication - only as it affects the result - they might be unhappy with the musical result, which of course, is the product of the conductor's rapport with the orchestra. .

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Re: What do you like or dislike about HvK?

Post by Donaldopato » Fri Dec 31, 2010 11:17 am

Another late weigh in. Von Karajan's performances seemed to be glossy, retouched prints of the music, lacking the soul and excitement that permeated the performances of Bernstein, Reiner, Cluytens, Walter, Mitropolous, just to name a few rough contemporaries of Karajan. Fussed over to the point of blandness. Thus I tended to avoid his recordings with the exception of the excellent 1962 Beethoven and the Schoenberg/Berg/Webern recordings of the mid 70's.
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Re: What do you like or dislike about HvK?

Post by Barry » Fri Dec 31, 2010 1:32 pm

Heck148 wrote:
Barry wrote: so what if some of the musicians are unhappy with the conductor's technique.
the listeners aren't directly concerned with conductor/musician communication - only as it affects the result - they might be unhappy with the musical result, which of course, is the product of the conductor's rapport with the orchestra. .
And some undoubtedly are, but given the esteem in which Karajan has been held by so many people for so many years, an awful lot of people have been "happy" with the musical result.
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Re: What do you like or dislike about HvK?

Post by Lance » Fri Dec 31, 2010 1:58 pm

Yes, I, too, would go back to Karajan over whom we have at the helm presently, and further, I would go back even further to Furtwängler, first and foremost. Had Furtwängler had the recording technologies (stereo and digital) at his disposal as did von Karajan at his best, I feel certain Furtwängler's legacy would rank even higher than it does (by most people) in today's world.
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Re: What do you like or dislike about HvK?

Post by Gregg » Fri Dec 31, 2010 5:05 pm

A lot of good comments in the thread.

How the mighty have fallen, HvK placed on a level with the over exposed Ormandy.

One of the first records I ever bought was his early seventies recording of Symphonie Fantastique (bought in the afore mentioned early seventies as a new release). Now having more Fantastiques under my belt I know there I a lot more music there - I still think the recording is wonderful (except the 2nd movement HvK totally misses the dance in the dance.

His DG Sibelius and Brahms leave me cold.

I bought his Pellias a few years ago in a moment of madness when I wanted to hear the work on vinyl after being exposed to the Désormière (1940’s) version on CD. A high priced EMI set bought in NYC. I don’t think I have ever been so disappointed in a record before. Soul-less, un-Debussian. (which reminds me of a new thread!)

I don’t know about his Bruckner, maybe it’s like the early Maazel recordings with the VPO, to some extent if you let them be themselves it works out well. Probably too much of a disservice to HvK, and off the mark on a Bruckner work, but HEY I do like his Walkure, and Siegfried Idyll (with Death and Transfiguration on the flip side)

Did he record Salome, maybe I should give it a try? Don’t get me started on Solti, but I like his Salome.

OK enough rambling.


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Re: What do you like or dislike about HvK?

Post by Chung » Fri Dec 31, 2010 6:54 pm

I generally like what I have of Karajan (which is confined to Beethoven's symphonies (1960s and 1980s), and a few compilations of his conducting several composers' works on cassette).

I certainly don't dislike him to the degree his harshest critics do but I haven't come round to understanding the adoration for almost everything that he did as I've seen in some quarters.

The thing that strikes me most about von Karajan is how "stringy" he makes the music sound. This is particularly noticeable for me when I compare his recording of Beethoven's first from 1962 with nearly contemporaneous recordings by Bernstein, Cluytens, Konwitschny, Krips or Szell. Sometimes I enjoy this "stringiness", other times it's "too stringy" and it kills the winds or percussion making as seem as if I'm listening to an oversized string ensemble.

I guess in a way that I like von Karajan in a way that I like junk food. His conducting output can get my endorphins going but I feel a little guilty in liking it that much when I know that I have more worthy choices. As an example, watch his Unitel recording of Beethoven's 7th. I don't care how crass or egomaniac that video is. It's often just damned good fun to take in even though I admire Konwitschny's recording of it the most.

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Re: What do you like or dislike about HvK?

Post by Fergus » Sat Jan 01, 2011 5:46 am

Chung wrote:....The thing that strikes me most about von Karajan is how "stringy" he makes the music sound....
That is the best description so far of why I ultimately turned away from HvK. One either likes that sound on a continued basis or one does not. I started looking for a more varied orchestral sound around the mid '80s. I would definitely not get rid of any of the (many) von Karajan recordings in my collection though :wink:

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Re: What do you like or dislike about HvK?

Post by Barry » Sat Jan 01, 2011 1:17 pm

Fergus wrote:
Chung wrote:....The thing that strikes me most about von Karajan is how "stringy" he makes the music sound....
That is the best description so far of why I ultimately turned away from HvK. One either likes that sound on a continued basis or one does not. I started looking for a more varied orchestral sound around the mid '80s. I would definitely not get rid of any of the (many) von Karajan recordings in my collection though :wink:
I think my fondness for a string-heavy sound in romantic and even some pre and post romantic music has a lot to do with my fondness for Karajan and also Ormandy. I just love the sound of their orchestras, at least in repertoire which I think it's suited for.
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