After the end of World War II Karajan had to wait for Furtwangler to die before he could ascend to prominence in Germany again, thanks to the older maestro's obsessive anxiety and jealousy. Furtwangler unexpectedly died in 1954, and when Karajan took his place at the head of the Berlin Phil., his major career, so far as most Americans are concerned, began.
But HvK hadn't been biding his time. We tned to forget the decade, beginning in 1947, when Karajan devoted himself primarily to the Philharmonia Orch. in London and made many recordings for EMI, mostly in mono, with them. This 2-CD set in the Great Conductors series focuses largely on the post-war era.
CD 1 begins with a Trisch-Tratsch Polka from Vienna with the Philharmonic in 1949, a nice bon bon. The Walton Sym. #1 is in limited, boxy mono sound from 1953. Karajan performed quite a lot with the Rome orchestra of the Italian Radio service at that time (we also have a Magic Flute in Italian with Schwarzkopf and an Oedipus Rex on various semi-pirate labels), and they perform well enough. This CD ends with a rather pointless Pictures at an Exhibition in early stereo (1955) with the Philharmonia--I can't imagine why anyone would bother with it considering Karajan's magnificent Berlin recording.
CD 2 features a mono reading of the Sibelius Fourth with the Philharmonia (1954), another work that Karajan remade in stereo with the Berlin Phil., and again I imagine only diehard collectors need both. The rest of the CD is filed out with pops material from Offenbach, Weinberger, Liszt, chabrier, and Waldteufel, all with the Philharmonia. Karajan was excellent in light fare throughout his career; these readings are especially fresh and energetic. CD 2 ends with a Tristan Prelude and Liebestod from 1971 with the excellent Helga Dernesch as Isolde. Since he recorded the complete opera with her at that same exact time (December), I imagine this performance is spun off from those sessions.
None of this material comes form DG, and except for the Walton, collectors of Karajan recordings will probably have everything else in earlier EMI reissues, so this set's appeal may be limited to those who want a first acquaintance with the relatively young Karajan before he became a power in Berlin.