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Karajan on Britten and Vaughan Williams

Karajan on Britten and Vaughan Williams

Karajan on Britten and Vaughan Williams: two editions

Karajan of the late forties and early fifties was a revelation. With the Philarmonia Orchestra he achieved performances that even himself rarely surpassed. In this category falls his reading of Britten’s Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Frank Bridge and Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.

Recorded in November 1953 in Kingsway Hall, London it makes for a memorable music-making. In the variations one is amazed at the effortless virtuosity and menacing precision of the playing (see especially the moto perpetuo and the funeral march).

Angel Records (red semi circle with grey angel) – 35142

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In the Fantasia, a piece which in other hands can sound melodramatic, Karajan and the Orchestra achieve a balance between accuracy, intensity and fantasy (not much fantasy though!). The orchestra constructs a well molded argument and in both works there is vitality and an underlining visionary power rarely achieved on such repertoire.

EMI has offered a series of vinyl boxes containing reissues of all his recordings of the era. However, the collector should go for the original editions, and there are two versions of this mono recording: 33CX 1159 on Columbia Records (blue and gold) and 35142 on Angel Records (red semi circle with grey angel).

Columbia (blue gold, deep groove) – 33CX 1159

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It should be noted that the sound on vinyl is average, the recording sounds constricted. However, the Columbia is the clear first choice with better base, clarity and separation of instruments. On Angel the recording has less focus and definition. Finally, from a collector’s point of view one should go for the Columbia issue. Both issues, although not expensive, are now increasingly difficult to find. This recording was later reissued on HMV Concert Classics (XLP 60002).

by Epaminondas Tsandis

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