Sunday, 27 March 2016

Otto Klemperer in Philadelphia: Volume II

I grew up with Beethoven's Pastoral symphony played by the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler (a November 1952 recording happily re-transferred by Pristine Audio some months ago). Critics of the time did not like it, with most of the tempos being dubbed “slow”. Klemperer's Pastoral aroused similar doubts among many, with even Walter Legge showing distress over Klemperer's tempo for the Peasants' Merry Making. “You'll get used to it,” Otto Klemperer was said to have retorted. Well, I like Furtwängler and Klemperer in the Pastoral. Klemperer conducts the symphony in a very welcome 2-CD second volume of Klemperer in Philadelphia in 1962 conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra (Pristine Audio). The sound on this CD is excellent, and the performance of the Pastoral in the Klemperer and Furtwängler tradition stemming from Germany during the later decades of the nineteenth century, and the first half of the twentieth. What the tradition was – if any – in the first decades of the nineteenth century is anyone's guess. However I prefer Beethoven enjoying the country, the brook and the peasants' merry making as depicted by Klemperer and Furtwängler, to the Beethoven city dweller scampering to get back to Vienna as soon as possible as depicted by conductors such as Toscanini, Chailly, or Roger Norrington and his like.

The new Philadelphia set also contains a taut, passionate performance of Schumann's fourth symphony, beautifully played by the orchestra. I have never been a fan of Schumann's foray into the world of the symphony. Returning to more traditional Klemperer territory, we have Mozart's Jupiter symphony, and Beethoven's seventh. The Mozart symphony might even be called Mozart's Klemperer symphony since it suits Klemperer's stern and craggy sound, especially in the first and last movements. The performance here is magnificent, with typical forward woodwinds and transparent textures. The slow movement contains some of the most beautiful music Mozart penned, and it is here played with superb taste and affection. A classic Jupiter recording. The Beethoven seventh symphony is another classic Klemperer account, with a strict control over rhythm and a Furtwängler-like pointing of the bass line throughout. The emphasis on textual clarity is particularly pronounced.

Arguably the concert series would have been even more valuable had the repertoire been different. The Philadelphia Orchestra in the 1960s had a big, rich sound, thus my delight in its performance of Brahms' third symphony recorded in the first volume of the Pristine set. A big, rich sound comes into its own with music such as Schumann, Brahms, Wagner, Richard Strauss, and Bruckner; I feel that the Beethoven comes off even better with the sleeker sounds in the 1960s with orchestras such as the Philharmonia, Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics, and the Concertgebouw orchestra. Fortunately, with Klemperer we have a choice: for example, for Beethoven's Eroica symphony, I have seven different recordings conducted by Klemperer, ranging from 1954 to 1963. Taken altogether, however, the four CDs from Pristine are a most welcome and valuable addition to the library of great performances from the past. I shall keep returning to them. If, following its welcome re-issues of so much Furtwängler material, Pristine Audio is going to turn to Klemperer, I'll be waiting. The recorded archives of Klemperer, particularly live, are vast.

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