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I can't say enough good about this release! DG/Universal have released some great mono recordings from the 1950s + some later Stereo issues of Karl Bohm (1894-1981) with the Vienna Philharmonic, Dresden State Orchestra, and Berlin Philharmonic, some which have never been on CD, or have been out of the catalog for years.
The Richard Strauss discs: about 50% of this set, have been released recently in a 3 CD Strauss box of Bohm/Dresden State Orchestra, and Berlin Philharmonic (DG, budget priced), but discs 1-4: Mozart and Weber, have not.
The Mozart "Requiem" with the Vienna Symphony, is from 1956 and is superb: taut, muscular, dramatic, and in very fine mono sound. Tempos are faster and more exciting than in Bohm's 1970 remake with the Vienna Philharmonic (DG). The 1956 "Requiem" was originally released on Philips LP, and for a short time, on Philips CD. The accompanying Symphonies 26 and 32 are very well played, with the Concertgebouw Orchestra.
The Mozart Symphonies are all excellent: 34 (with the added Minuet movement many conductors leave out), 35 and 38, all with the Vienna Philharmonic, originally Decca recordings, in mid 1950s mono sound. They share the same high marks and good qualities I give to Bohm's DG stereo Berlin Philharmonic Mozart cycle from the 1960s. The playing is warm and affectionate, tempos never too fast or slow: everything is just right. Karl Bohm was one excellent Mozart conductor, and the same can be said for Symphonies 39, 40, and 41 with the Concertgebouw Orchestra.
While the Berlin Philharmonic "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" might not sound as good as Bohm's 1976 Vienna Philharmonic recording (DG, in several different reissues), it is very good, and affectionate. And I enjoyed the four Weber Overtures, including the rarely heard "Abu Hassan", "Euryanthe" and "Oberon" immensely - recorded in 1951 with the Dresden State Orchestra (Bohm's own orchestra from 1934-43) in very good mono sound.
Nothing need be said in detail about the Strauss works. You may know Bohm and Richard Strauss (1864-1949) became close friends in the early 1930s, and Strauss thought very highly of his younger colleague. Strauss's 1944 opera "Daphne" is dedicated to Karl Bohm. Bohm recorded much of Strauss's music: both orchestral (here) and opera, for DG, Decca, and other labels later on in his career.
Disc 8 is narration by Bohm, in German, recorded in 1960, "A Life re-told" and it is very interesting. There is a rough English translation in the accompanying text booklet, of Bohm's words telling about his life up to 1960 and career as a conductor. I highly recommend this set to anyone interested in great conducting, or in Karl Bohm's recordings.
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Few conductors have enjoyed as prolific and as distinguished a recording career as Karl Böhm. His first recordings--revealing fully mature interpretations of Mozart, Bruckner and Brahms-- appeared in the 1930's, and his final efforts date from the dawn of the digital era. During this long span Böhm went from strength to strength as he explored a broad swath of orchestral repertoire from Haydn through Richard Strauss and a less expansive but formidable series of operas by Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, Strauss and Berg. Why, then, is Böhm less appreciated today than his younger contemporary, Herbert von Karajan? The reason may well hinge on Böhm's charcteristic reluctance to create a glamorous, charismatic image or to court publicity in narcissistic fashion. His temperament was reserved, serious, and his attentions were almost always focused on the music he was performing, not on his own talents or public persona.
These virtues (which can also on occasion grade into liabilities) are amply in evidence in this outstanding anthology of Böhm's work with no fewer than five orchestras (the BPO, the Concertgebouw, the VPO, the VSO, and the Dresden Staatskapelle) during the early LP era. That Böhm was at the height of his powers when these recordings were made is evident from the fact that where later versions of the same repertoire exist (e.g., Mozart's *Requiem* and final symphonic trilogy),the ones contained in this set are more consistently satisfying (usually tauter in conception and crisper in execution).
The set commences with a Mozart *Requiem* of extraordinary intensity and grandeur, with disciplined, if overly vibrato-laden singing from a large choir and an outstanding team of soloists that includes the shimmering, silvery soprano of Teresa Stich-Randall. Authentic performance practice this is not, but hugely enjoyable nonetheless. The *Requiem* is followed, somewhat incongruously, with two of Mozart's fluffiest early symphonies (26 & 32) in ebullient performances by the Royal Concertgebouw (lighter and more energetic than his re-recordings of these works with the BPO).
The second and third CDs house a cache of mature Mozart symphonies: 34, 36 and 38 with the VPO (lithe, elegant and vivacious, despite bone-dry sound); 39-41 with the Concertgebouw (magnificent in every respect, and pretty well recorded). The fourth CD combines some delightful Mozart party music, in which Böhm (with the BPO in fine fettle) characteristically brings out the earthy good humor as much as the suave elegance, with a stirring group of Weber Overtures (with the VPO), two of which are rarely heard (but definitely worth getting to know).
Discs 5, 6 & 7 feature works of Richard Struass, another Böhm specialty (he was a personal friend of the ocmposer, who dedicated a number of works to him). Surprisingly, given the conductor's pedigree, these performances are less consistently impressive than the Mozart and Weber. The Four Last Songs with Della Casa are memorable for their unfussy musicianship and unsentimental lyricism--those who find Schwarzkopf's Strauss insufferably arch (not me) will probably appreciate Dela Casa's salutary restraint. *Don Juan*, *Till Eulenspiegel* and *Heldenleben* are treated to splendidly colorful and exuberant performances by that most opulent of German orchestras, the Staatskapelle Dresden. *Alpensinfonie*, *Tod und Verklärung* and *Also Sprach Zarathustra*, however, disappoint in different ways. The Alpine Symphony (with Dresden forces) needs more sharply delineated dramatic contrasts and, at the summit, exaltation, than Böhm's brusque and underplayed account provides (not helped by the thin-sounding recording); Death and Transfiguration (with the Concertgebouw) is also curiously uninspiring--what one can hear of it through the miasma of a cloudy recording; the narrative of Zarathustra (with BPO), too, needs to unfold more vividly, and with a better sense of dramatic timing than Böhm supplies (though in this work at least the sound is pretty good).
My reservations about some of these Strauss recordings, however, should not deter prospective purchasers from what is overall a splendid retrospective of a conductor who managed to integrate head and heart more successfully than many of his contemporaries. As a bonus, you will also get an eighth CD containing some very interesting autobiographical reminiscences by the conductor (interlarded with excerpts from other Böhm recordings). and a well-written, informative booklet (minus texts and translations). Strongly recommended, then, to collectors of historically significant recordings and to Böhm enthusiasts.