From 1976, when Herbert von Karajan – already a legend – met the prodigiously gifted 13-year-old Anne-Sophie Mutter until his death 13 years later, she was the only violinist to appear with him in concert and on disc. This 5-CD set contains all the concertos they recorded together for Deutsche Grammophon. It includes the concertos by Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Bruch and Brahms; but now, for the first time, there is also the Tchaikovsky Concerto, as well as the Beethoven Triple Concerto with Mark Zeltser and Yo-Yo Ma, and the Brahms Double Concerto with Antonio Meneses.
In light of the "chill-out" trend of the 1990s, major labels released many albums of slow, meditative pieces to appeal to listeners who wanted relaxing or reflective background music. Deutsche Grammophon's vaults are full of exceptional recordings of classical orchestral music, and the performances by Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic are prominent in the label's catalog. The slow selections on Karajan: Adagio are in most cases drawn from larger compositions, though these movements are frequently anthologized as if they were free-standing works. Indeed, many have come to think of the Adagietto from Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 5 as a separate piece in its own right, largely because of its evocative use in the film Death in Venice. Furthermore, the famous Canon by Johann Pachelbel is seldom played with its original companion piece, the Gigue in D major, let alone in its original version for three violins and continuo; it most often appears in an arrangement for strings.
Admirers of Karajan will probably own most or all of these symphony cycles from what was probably the pinnacle of the conductor's prolific career. However, if you are unfamiliar with Karajan's work, or well enough acquainted with it to desire further exploration, then this amazingly inexpensive anthology can be enthusiastically recommended. I purchased all of these sets when they came out in DG's previous mid-priced "Karajan Symphony Edition," and I can testify to their consistently oustanding quality, both as performances and as interpretations. As recordings, however, it must be admitted that the sound is of variable quality; sometimes admirably vivid and well balanced, but frequently tending toward harshness, even garishness–particularly in those which come from the early digital era (cf. Bruckner's symphonies 1-3). Too bad Universal didn't see fit to give this magnificent legacy a sonic facelift. Still, the performances are sufficiently worthy of your attention to warrant purchase regardless of these sonic limitations.
Judging simply by timings, Mintz and Sinopoli seem to have decided on a middle path in their approach to the first movement of this concerto: they take nearly a minute less over it than Mutter and Karajan (also on DG), about a minute and a half more than Perlman and Giulini on EMI. Using ears rather than a stopwatch, however, they seem to be giving by far the slowest performance of the movement that I have heard in years. It is a reading from which anything which might savour of soloistic display has been expunged, in which no note, even one of a flourish of semiquavers, is allowed to be 'merely' decorative. Mutter is fond of polishing every note like a jewel, too, but the very opening of the concerto in hers and Karajan's reading sounds positively sprightly set beside the newcomer. The moment Mutter enters the speed slackens markedly, but Karajan watchfully assures that the pulse returns with each tutti, and a sense of momentum is present throughout, even during the soloist's most wayward rhapsodizings.
…After winning several prizes, she was exempted from school to dedicate herself to her art. When she was 13, conductor Herbert von Karajan invited her to play with the Berlin Philharmonic: she made her public debut on stage in 1976 at the Lucerne Festival, playing Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major. In 1977, she made her debut at the Salzburg Festival and with the English Chamber Orchestra under Daniel Barenboim. At 15, Mutter made her first recording of the Mozart Third and Fifth violin concerti with Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic…