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The Cosmopolitan in London

Balakirev and Roussel Symphonies

Philharmonia Orchestra
conducted by Herbert von Karajan

CD Review

This is one for the record books! Karajan's exemplary recordings of these two symphonies are a true model of the recording process in London after the war. You will never believe that these are 1949 recordings such is their quality of timbre and lustrous shades of various instruments. The Balakirev symphony is particularly fine.

Both conductor and orchestra are at one with the brooding melancholy of the piece and their approach to the work is rather similar to Beecham's contemporaneous account, although it has to be said that the Philharmonia is superior in every department. Walter Legge's 'Royal Flush' has a field day in the dazzling Scherzo whilst those fabled strings are inspired in the beautiful slow movement.

Roussel's Fourth is even finer. Here we have a compact symphonic argument but a powerful 20th century declamation that really makes the pot boil. Once again Karajan and his orchestra are absolutely top-notch, indeed a Gramophone reviewer thought that the 'playing was almost beyond criticism'. I wholeheartedly concur with that phrase!

Once again, the Legge/Larter production is a model of its kind and the sound is thrillingly vivid, almost like an antique Rolls-Royce polished as new. Surely one for the library.

Copyright © Gerald Fenech, March 6th 1999

Balakirev - The London Years

Philharmonia Orchestra / Herbert von Karajan

BALAKIREV: Symphony No. 1
ROUSSEL: Symphony No. 4

EMI Karajan Edition  CDM 566 5952

ADD  (Recorded 1949)                   Playing time: 69m


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