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The Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan was born in Salzburg in 1908. He spent his early years working in Aachen before coming to Berlin where he was hailed as ‘Das Wunder Karajan’ (‘The Karajan Miracle’). After the Second World War he was signed in Vienna by EMI producer Walter Legge to record with the Wiener Philharmoniker and subsequently became effectively principal conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra in London. He then succeeded Furtwängler as Music Director of the Berliner Philharmoniker and he remained in that post until shortly before his death in 1989.
His name became synonymous with the best in orchestral music and his legacy of outstanding recordings is enormous. This selection can give just a taste of some of his best and most characteristic performances, beginning with pieces by the masters of the Classical era: Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, including extracts from Mozart’s much-loved ‘Eine kleine Nachtmusik’ and two of Beethoven’s most powerful symphonies: Nos 5 and 9.
The composers of the Romantic period heard here include Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Dvorák, Richard Strauss, Rachmaninov and Sibelius, and the lighter side of Karajan is shown in two lively polkas and a lilting waltz (the famous ‘Blue Danube’) by Johann Strauss II. French music is represented by the stirring ‘Marche hongroise’ from La Damnation de Faust by Berlioz and the colourful España by Chabrier, and Bohemia comes to life in part of The Moldau by the Czech composer Smetana.
Karajan was also unsurpassed as a conductor of opera and this is illustrated by his superb performances of the Intermezzo from Puccini’s Manon Lescaut, the Prelude to Act III of Wagner’s Lohengrin and part of the spectacular Triumphal Scene from Verdi’s Aida.