WAGNER: Das Rheingold
BEETHOVEN: Missa Solemnis
BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 8 in C minor. Symphony No. 9 in D minor. Te
Herbert von Karajan's presented Wagner's Ring Cycle at the Salzburg Festival beginning in 1967 with Das Rheingold. Each opera was recorded for DGG prior to stage performances. Karajan also wanted to film the entire Ring. Das Rheingold, presented with a largely different cast than during the festival, is the only one of the four that was filmed. Audio was recorded in Salzburg in 1973, and filming at Bavaria-Atelier in Munich November 1-19, 1979. In addition to the Rhine maidens, three of the singers are acted by others, presumably as the singers weren't available at the time of filming: Donner is played by Vladimir De Kanel, Fasolt by Gerd Nienstedt, and Erda by the legendary Wagnerian Martha Mödl. Because of the tremendous expense, other operas were not filmed—and perhaps it is just as well. Karajan is totally responsible for the amateurish production and video effects. One wonders where all the $$$ went. There are pluses of course—Zoltán Kelemen is a superb Alberich, and the three Rhine maidens are wonderfully presented, with dimly-lit very attractive actresses swimming quite realistically. When Alberich accepts Wotan and Loge's challenge and is turned into a serpent, the transformation produces a comic big-eyed worm that looks as if it just stepped out of Sesame Street. And when Alberich is supposed to turn himself into a small toad, instead we see a frog—perhaps they couldn't find a real toad and thought nobody would notice the difference. The camera, often slightly out of focus, also many times is not where it should be. The grand Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla doesn't amount to much. Audio is blurred, singers voices unfocused—and for sure this is fake "surround sound." Skip this one. Kara jan is seen and heard in much more favorable circumstances on the other two DGG videos. Beethoven's mighty Missa Solemnis was programmed by Karajan three times during the Salzburg Festival, in 1959, 1967 and in 1979. The latter, recorded April 4, 1979, is seen on this video, a magnificent, powerful performance, with outstanding soloists. Although Karajan is listed as "artistic supervisor," the camera isn't always on him, and when it is he often has eyes open. Sound is big, spacious and somewhat blurred, definitely not 5.1, although sound is coming from all speakers.
Perhaps Karajan's most impressive videos are the Bruckner disks. Symphony No. 9 and Te Deum were recorded during a concert in Vienna's Musikverein in May 1978. Symphony No. 8 was filmed in June of 1979 at St. Florens church in Linz where Bruckner was organist; his coffin is in the crypt beneath the great organ .Karajan had major spinal surgery in the winter of 1975/76 that restricted his movement causing increasing levels of pain during his final years (he died in 1989). In spite of his physical problems, Karajan is at his best, and one could consider all of these to be Karajan's finest performances of the works. The outer movements of Symphony No. 9 are faster than usual but do not lose tension, and the scherzo is given an impetuous reading of remarkable drive. This is one of the finest Eighths you'll ever see or hear, marked by impassioned playing from the Vienna Philharmonic. As usual with Karajan videos, the camera often is on the conductor, but not as much as usual. Sonic quality is excellent, surprisingly good in the Eighth, where the engineers have been able to control the church's resonance. A quality issue very much worthy of investigation. A point of interest: if you are a fan of Karajan and "historic" recordings, try to find an out-of-print CD issued in 1994 by Koch (3-1448) that contained the final three movements of Bruckner's Symphony No. 8 recorded in 1944 with the Preussische Staatskapelle, the final movement in impressive experimental stereo—the first Karajan stereo recording
R.E.B. (May 2008)