on 7 March 2013
The conducting is a revelation. I wish I could hear Otto Kemperer in concert. Unfortunately, he has passed away before my time. I don't feel qualified to describe the conducting here, therefore I will concentrate on the recording.
The origianl recording must have been ahead of its time as the excitement of the music went straight to my heart, however, the re-mastering hasn't been done for a 21st century music systme. When it comes to the high octaves you can hear a kind of a very slightly eerie sound, which was normal for the origianl recording considering its age. I only wish that the record company had tackled this problem.
Klemperer seemed to have a special affinity for the music of Brahms. The symphonies are given magisterial performances that feel as convincing as any, and the Requiem is stately and impressive without being ponderous.
If you have other recordings of these works in your collection, these would make worthy companions, or if you need an introduction to this timeless music, this convenient package would serve well.
OK; one's ears must adjust both to the somewhat scratchy, less than stellar sound - albeit well mastered to remove most of the hiss - and to the massive deliberateness of Klemperer's beat, which must sound distinctly marmoreal to those brought up on HIP-HAP skippiness but there is no doubting that this super-bargain box contains some of the greatest vintage Brahms ever recorded.
It is by no means uniformly marvellous: the first mono "Variations" is not especially well played or particularly secure in intonation and may safely be passed over and I for one, despite my admiration for Klemperer's magisterial grasp of the over-arching structure of the "Requiem" derive limited pleasure from Fischer-Dieskau's typically dry-voiced word-pointing or Schwarzkopf's quavery crooning, so far removed from the angelic purity and security of the best sopranos in this music, yet there is also some simply magical playing, particularly of the Second and Third Symphonies, when the inexorable grandeur of Klemp's conception sweeps all before. Nor is he by any means always ponderous, as even a cursory listen to the propulsive finale of the Second will confirm. The First and Fourth are also highly recommendable, even if I don't think Klemperer brings quite enough drive either to the opening of the former or the finale of the latter in comparison to touchstone performances by Furtwängler from wartime and the early fifties. Still the horns blare from the hillsides towards the end of the Allegro finale to the Fourth like an angelic cohort descending on the foe.
A special refined pleasure is derived from being able to hear, either on speakers or especially on headphones, how Klemperer deployed the strings in the old manner, with the second violins on the extreme right where the double basses are in a modern orchestra; this emphasises Brahms' contrapuntal effects and enlivens the aural palette.
Most old hands will have many if not all of these classic recordings but at this price this box set is worth acquiring either to get these works in the newly remastered sound or to flesh out any gaps in the collection - such as the twelve and a half minute gem the "Alto Rhapsody" with Christa Ludwig in most flexible and voluptuous voice.