Can’t give it away? Berlin Phil sells Karajan Edition for £1 a disc

Can’t give it away? Berlin Phil sells Karajan Edition for £1 a disc


norman lebrecht

July 10, 2014

Some will consider it the music bargain of the century, others a sale of desperation.

The Berlin Phil cannot sell records any more, nor can it attract many visitors to its Digital Concert Hall DCH).

So it is selling a 38-CD box of prime Herbert von Karajan recordings for £39.50 (or $67), and throwing in a free voucher, to boot.

Link here.



  • Halldor says:

    But consider that anyone who collects CDs will almost certainly already have these recordings, and will have had for decades (unless they’re Karajan-averse). And anyone buying CDs of these works for the first time, in 2014 (and how many people still buy CDs) is a unlikely to want a creaky old Karajan / BPO interpretation. They’re deeply unfashionable. Who would really choose a Karajan Haydn Paris Symphonies set when the BPO have recently recorded them with Rattle? Perhaps only the Bruckner cycle would be anyone’s first library choice out of this lot, these days.

    These recordings have made a lot of money for their producers over the years, but if anything in recorded music is now life-expired, it’s these. Karajan / BPO Beethoven cycles were being given away as free offers on the back of the Radio Times as long ago as the late 1980s. The teenage musicians I work with enthuse over Abbado and Kleiber but genuinely haven’t heard of Karajan. “Should I have?” they ask. The only honest answer I can give them has more to do with his early Philharmonia recordings on EMI than the blockbuster DG sets of his high imperial period in Berlin.

    • Gaffney Feskoe says:

      Never heard of Karajan? What hope then for the likes of Klemperer, Walter, Giulini, Bernstein, Reiner, Szell, Munch, and, and, and!!!

      IMHO these and many others are the unsurpassed greats of recorded interpretations to which I return to with regularity after hearing more contemporary efforts.

      • Halldor says:

        But who says you have to admire Karajan to love Munch, Walter, Klemperer etc? To be honest, if you admire those artists, I’d have thought it’d make you more, rather than less critical of HvK’s work in Berlin.

        • Gaffney Feskoe says:

          My comment was neither pro nor con Karajan. It was only to register amazement that some “young artists” have never heard of him.

          Having said this, whatever one may think of Karajan as a person, there is much to admire in his recorded legacy. I, for one, think his 1962 Beethoven symphony recordings with the Berlin remain unsurpassed.

    • steve says:

      Somewhat generalized.
      Many recordings from Karajan’s BPO years still enjoy high regard….just a few which spring to mind: Prokofiev 5,Shostakovich 10,Mahler 9(live),Schoenberg Transfigured Night, Berg 3 Orchestral pieces,Strauss Alpine Symphony. Some appalling ones from the Philharmonia period which you mention as being his golden age Eg.Jeux de Cartes.
      Karajan does seem to polarize opinion quite a bit (not unlike some of the soloists he admired like Kremer,Weissenberg and Gould) and interest seems as fervent as ever abetted by Norman Lebrecht,and others.

  • anonymus says:

    How many people still buy CDs? Many. In Germany over 75% of the whole music recording market is still selling physical. Over 90% of the classical music recordings are sold as physical recordings still. And the physical market is consolidating, with vinyl being the new kid on the block.

  • Michael Endres says:

    The BPO cannot attract many visitors to its Digital concert hall ?

    Given that a subscription is not that cheap ( 149 Euros a year, 24.90 a month ) it seems they have generated quite some interest here.

    ”Im letzten Jahr verzeichnete die Digital Concert Hall rund 1,7 Millionen Besucher und 180.000 App-Downloads. Zudem sind 390.000 Nutzer registriert, von denen 20.000 ein TIcket oder Abonnement haben.”
    ( Last year Digital concert Hall had 1.7 million visitors and 180.000 app downloads. At the same time there are 390.000 registered users ,of which 20.000 have a ticket or valid subscription ”).

    quoted from:

  • Michael Endres says:

    PS The above link doesn’t seem to work , here I’ll try again:

  • Shalom Rackovsky says:

    The Digital Concert Hall is perhaps the most brilliant development in classical music of the last 30 years. The performances are jaw-dropping, and the quality of the stream is absolutely outstanding. And, if reports are to be believed, they are attracting a large and devoted following. Why wouldn’t I spend 149 Euros for a year of these concerts, when tickets to the grossly inferior orchestra in my home town are not much cheaper. I have friends who, having seen the Digital Concert Hall, won’t watch it again because it makes it impossible for them to enjoy our local orchestra [whose name I am withholding out of pure charity….] I know all the boiler-plate blather about the importance of attending live performances- I’m a devoted non-professional musician myself. But watch the BPO performance of the Alpine Symphony, for example, and then explain to me why I wouldn’t want to subscribe to this incredible service….

    • Harry Kirschner says:

      Agreed. The Digital Concert Hall is terrific and I hope it keeps up. I live in the Los Angeles area and as much as I like Disney Hall and Gustavo Dudamel, I prefer my DCH subscription.

      • Halldor says:

        Now I’m really frightened for the future of classical music. What was it Celibidache said about listening to recorded music? “Like making love to a photograph”? Digital relays as a wonderful complement to the live experience, yes please – but NEVER as a substitute.

        • Shalom Rackovsky says:

          The accuracy of your statement would depend entirely on what the digital relay is a substitute for. And, aren’t you aware of the fact that one should NEVER, EVER generalize?

          • Halldor says:

            I wouldn’t disagree with that list of recordings, actually, though I must admit I’m deeply uncomfortable with the notion of a “benchmark recording” of anything – still, I wouldn’t be without Karajan’s 1959 Rosenkavalier. But my point is really that Karajan doesn’t enjoy the profile he once did.

            Try and see him from the perspective of a generation that never witnessed his career at first hand. Those of us who were around when he was the “General Music Director of Europe” may find it hard to credit now that – looking back – Kleiber, Klemperer, Bernstein, Abbado, Walter, Barbirolli, Reiner, to name just a few, all stand higher. But that’s the impression I get from the younger musicians I talk to, and if I’m honest, it’s the message I get from my record collection, whenever I listen for pleasure. The hand wavers over Karajan’s Beethoven, Strauss, Brahms, Mahler…and then moves on to Mackerras, Beecham, Walter or Klemperer.

          • Halldor says:

            Apologies, that (above) was a reply to Michael Endres’ comment below. It wasn’t meant to appear here!

          • Halldor says:

            Very droll 🙂 But I’d say a digital relay is no substitute for being present at any live performance. I’ve never been at a live performance so poor that it hasn’t given me a musical experience more meaningful than any concert, no matter how good, that I’ve experienced through a screen and speakers.

  • Nick says:

    “The teenage musicians I work with enthuse over Abbado and Kleiber but genuinely haven’t heard of Karajan”

    As odd as this may seem to my generation, I am not surprised. A close friend told me some months ago that young singers at one of the UK’s Music Academies did not recognise the name Dame Janet Baker!

    • Halldor says:

      They are superb, highly committed and very well-informed young artists. But unlike some record collectors, they’re interested in music as a living art form. They seek out the recordings and musical personalities that speak to them (and yes, that includes people like Klemperer, Bernstein, Schwarzkopf, du Pre and many others). It’s telling, though, that Karajan, by and large, isn’t amongst those. No-one’s recommending him to them, and those that do encounter him are listening to the music (not having lived through the hype) and forming their own judgments.
      This is anecdotal, true – but I think it’s nonetheless interesting.

    • Gaffney Feskoe says:

      I wonder if Toscanini or Furtwangler ring a bell with any of these students?

  • Michael Schaffer says:

    Michael Endres says:
    July 11, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    Never having heard of him speaks volumes about your ”very well informed young artists”.

    It shouldn’t surprise you though, after all, they have “Halldor” as their teacher or mentor or whatever he is.