Sunday, 8 September 2013

Klemperer in Mozart

Listening to two very enjoyable symphonies by Friedrich Ernst Fesca written around 1815, highlighted for me the gulf between great talent, and genius. Fesca was an immensely talented composer (with an early death at 37 years old). But turn to Mozart, or Beethoven or Schubert from the same approximate period, and the contrast is stark; we are in a different musical league all together. Unfortunately for Fesca, I am in the middle of a “Mozart period”, having taken delivery of not only an 11 CD box of Mozart operas, but also an 8 CD box of Mozart symphonies and serenades. Highly enjoyable; I have neglected Mozart for quite a while to wander in the pastures of Bach, Wagner, Shostakovich, et al. But Wolfgang Amadeus is welcome back into my life.

Conductor of these mammoth boxes is ... Otto Klemperer, one of the side benefits of the EMI sale to Warner being the fire-sale of the great recordings from the EMI back catalogue. Klemperer lived a long time (dying at the ripe old age of 88 and active almost until the very end). Of him, the EMI liner note says: “ ... last of a generation of great conductors who had been nurtured within the late nineteenth century European culture where music was central to the intellectual and spiritual life of the civilisation it served”. I revel in Klemperer's Mozart conducting. All his many virtues are to the fore: care with note values; strict attention to balance and clarity; rhythmic integrity; balance between first and second violins; forward woodwind; avoidance of any suspicion of showmanship or playing to the gallery; attention to dynamics; complete integrity. Added to this, in these recordings, is the playing of the Philharmonia during the 1950s and 60s, plus the professionalism and care of detail by the EMI recording team nurtured by Walter Legge. All topped by the incredible fire-sale prices of the EMI back catalogue.

And tempi? In the main, I have few problems with Klemperer's tempi. For me, the secret of a “correct” tempo is that the interpreter must feel it, and believe in it. Thus slower tempi that can be found with artists such as Furtwängler or Klemperer can sound right, just as faster tempi with an artist such as Jascha Heifetz can sound right. Tempi sound wrong when they are chosen for extraneous reasons, such as “if I play it slowly, it will sound more profound” or “I will play it fast because that is what the composer's metronome specification says”. Tempi need to be generated internally, not from external factors.

There are -- for the moment -- Klemperer boxes of pretty well the whole Austro-German eighteenth and nineteenth century concert hall repertoire: Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Schumann, Wagner, Bruckner and Mahler. And, unlike his colleagues such as Bruno Walter, Toscanini, Furtwängler, Erich Kleiber, et al, Klemperer lived just long enough to be in pretty decent recorded sound. Anyone wanting core recordings of the Austro-German repertoire should invest in all these Klemperer boxes, immediately (the sale is unlikely to last too long).

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