Friday, 1 February 2008

The Great Herbert

An article by Norman Lebrecht (published in the London Evening Standard, but available on the web at La Scena Musicale raises the spectre of Herbert von Karajan's centenary.

It was when I was a student in Manchester (from 1976 to 1981) that I first really came across Karajan's work. When we could afford it we were buying LP's and inevitably Karajan's name came to our attention. This was before I came to know his stunning records of the 1950's. This was the era when he was increasingly prizing glossy perfection in his orchestra, sometimes at the expense of his singers. Further into the 1980's I came to notice the way he was pushing some singers into roles which would seem to heavy for them (Katia Ricciarelli as Aida for instance).

I heard comments about the eerie perfection of his stage productions and the stories that he would not countenance long runs as the staging started to fail to meet his exacting standards.

All this conspired against my liking for his style of music making. To this day, I have few of Karajan's recordings and only admire his early ones. For this reason we coined a name for him, The Great Herbert. To understand this you have to understand our local (Northern English) idiom, in which the phrase you daft herbert, refers to someone who has done something stupid.

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