The Rolls-Royce Treatment

I like boxes. You know, compendiums of classical music consisting of 30 or more cds, at prices averaging under $2/disc.  I don’t listen to ‘em, necessarily, but I pile them on the piano and look at them from time to time. There are amazing deals out there, incl. Bayreuth’s old Sawallisch (what a Lohengrin!) and Bohm (What a Tristan!) records…33 cds in a pretty box.  Or “Berlin Alexanderplatz”; a deluxe Criterion 7 disc set of the greatest film ever made, with a book included as well. And a very pretty box.

Nobody with any sense is gonna dispute the above purchases. You’re probably no longer reading this, because you’re madly scrambling to order these items for yourself. But now for the insane part of this narrative. Cue the ominous music, let’s say Schoenberg’s “Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene” or Weber’s Wolfglen music. Or on second thought, don’t bother. The facts are scary enough. Joining Bayreuth and Fassbinder on the piano is the 37-disc set of Karajan conducting the Berlin Phil. in complete editions of Beethoven, Bruckner, Brahms, Haydn, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Schumann and Tchaikovsky symphonies.

Why, oh why! Where have we failed you, Mr. Gibbons? Haven’t we introduced you to Bohm and Bernstein, Furtwangler and Kleiber, Kempe and Kletsky? Better conductors every one! What went wrong? Oh, the Humanity! (humanity doesn’t necessarily include Karajan) Why this megalomanical, homogenizing, racist Nazi pig! 

Get mad, it’s your good right. Alert the teabaggers so they can humiliate me at a town hall. Kick me in the shins. But to paraphrase Marquis de Sade, predictably (now that you know my secret vice) one of my heroes, if you want to burn me in effigy you’ll just have to do it, because I will never change. 

Just set yourself-all back all comfy-like, straddle a cracker barrel and light a cheroot, while I tuck  my thumbs in my suspenders and regale ya’ll with a yarn.

When I was a wee tyke at the Peabody conservatory my friends (don’t laugh) and I went to the record store.  I wanted the Mozart Requiem, God alone knows why (it’s a problematical and uneven piece, and I should’ve been looking for the c minor mass or something else, instead, as I didn’t yet have any sacred music by Mozart). Anyway, I wildly grabbed the Karajan/Vienna version and tucked it under my arm with the beaming countenance of smug sophistication, eagerly anticipating my friends to congratulate me on my connisseurhood.  Instead they looked at me with condescension and pity.  Gently, in hushed tones, they expressed their concern that I wasn’t buying, say, the Norrington version, with authentic oboes and everything. I stamped my foot, and with tears welling in my eyes and my face going the wrong shape, I bleated: ‘This one is too good! It’s the best and I love it more then anything and I hate you guys for ever!”  

And since then, I’ve been scarred for life, hence my recent purchase. And Norrington isn’t a conductor, he’s a butler. “Norrington, show these gentlemen to the study, where we will take our brandy.” That’s who Norrington is. 

Haydn is big and slow, with majestic minuets and finessy finales.  Mozart is moribund, Beethoven is treated like Brahms, who is treated really well, actually. Bruckner sounds like an organ, so does Schumann, and the Tchaik is mercifully sober. Ain’t heard the Mendelssohn yet, as I live in deadly fear that the  “Lobgesang” will get in my face. Geez, ain’t life short enough already? Oh, wait: the Lobgesang will make it seem that time is stopped… I get to live forever!

The Berlin boys don’t make many mistakes and Karajan knows the music cold, too cold.  This stuff is perfect, too perfect, like a TV anchorman’s hair.  But it is the Rolls-Royce treatment.