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23 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Nineteenth Century Conductor's View of Beethoven - in Stereo, 29 Oct. 2012
This review is from: Beethoven: Symphonies & Overtures (Audio CD)
I recently came across this anecdote in Richard Osborne's biography of Herbert von Karajan:

"[In October 1957] Karajan was off to Japan with the Berlin Philharmonic, though not before he made a flying visit to London to hear Klemperer conduct the Eroica Symphony with the Philharmonia.
It was a visit which led to a famous encounter in Klemperer's dressing-room after the concert:
KLEMPERER: Herr von Karajan, what are you doing here?
KARAJAN: I have simply come to thank you and to say that I hope I shall live to conduct the Funeral March as well as you have done it.
Good night." *

Three Nineteenth Century conductors lived long enough to leave us with a complete cycle of Beethoven Symphonies in the new medium of Stereo (beginning in 1956).
I'm fudging a little: Nineteenth Century Romanticism dragged on for a few years after 1900,
But their formative years were in the Nineteenth Century:

- Bruno Walter (1876-1962)..................Debut: 1894
- Pierre Monteux (1875-1964)...............Debut: 1895
- Otto Klemperer (1885-1973)...............Debut: 1905

Their conducting styles were different from each other (and from their younger selves).
Nevertheless, all three had strong personalities which they effectively communicated to an orchestra.
I still listen to these sets with pleasure, which is more than I can say for dozens of faceless conductors who came afterward (no names!).

Monteux's Beethoven is the most "modern" sounding of the three - with the London Symphony and Vienna Philharmonic (distributed by Universal)
- As he aged, his interpretations also changed less dramatically than the other two: Beethoven: The Nine Symphonies

Young Bruno Walter could be tough. "Old" Bruno Walter with the Columbia Symphony (Sony) was warm and fuzzy.
Musicians loved him.
Included in the new 39 CD Bruno Walter Edition: Bruno Walter: the Edition

Otto Klemperer was not warm and fuzzy.
I love Otto Klemperer's Beethoven, but it's not to everyone's taste.
He conducted with his fists and a scowl on his face, and the music sometimes sounded like it.
He wasn't really a terrible old man - his intimidating appearance was the result of surgery to remove a brain tumor, which left him partially paralyzed for the last 30 years of his life.
This only complicated the problems caused by his life-long bouts of mental illness (nowadays he would be called "bi-polar").
He could be difficult to deal with, but the Philharmonia Orchestra and the British public loved him.

Interestingly, according to historical accounts, Beethoven also conducted with his fists and a scowl on his face (he really was a terrible man).
Can this be authentic performance practice?

Klemperer's Beethoven has been reissued several times on CD, but this new collection is the first absolutely complete edition of his EMI Beethoven Symphonies, Overtures, Grosse Fugue, and excerpts from Egmont & Prometheus.
The Concerti, Missa Solemnis and Fidelio are not included - they are available in EMI's Great Recordings of the Century series.

Two CDs worth of mono recordings from 1954-1955.
The rest is warm Kingsway Hall stereo.
Clarity guaranteed by Klemperer's old-fashioned seating arrangement - first violins to the left, second violins to the right - which was, after all, what Beethoven expected.
Not all violins scrunched together on the left, which is the modern preference.

Klemperer's strings were seated in an arc: First Violins, Basses, Cellos, Violas, Second Violins.
You get a remarkable sense of being "inside" the orchestra.
Fun to listen to over headphones.

The new box includes two recordings each of Symphonies 3 and 5, three recordings of Symphony 7, and two recordings each of the Overtures to The Consecration of the House,
Creatures of Prometheus, and Leonore 1-3.

Also - for the first time on CD we have his late (1970) New Philharmonia recordings of Beethoven Symphony 7 and the Overture, Adagio and Finale from The Creatures of Prometheus.

At their best, Klemperer's performances have a cumulative power unlike any other I know.

REMASTERINGS: EMI has conscientiously given us the best available European remasterings (I can't vouch for Japanese remasterings).
6 CDs of 1998 remasterings done in 24-bit resolution by Abbey Road Technology (ART).
3 CDs worth of 2000-2003 remasterings are from EMI's Great Recordings of the Century series (also 24-bit).
There is even 1 CD + of 2012 remasterings.
CD 4 claims to have used 1990 remasterings, but I am skeptical at least of Symphony 4: I have the 1998 remastering and they appear to be identical.
The 1960 Symphony 7 did not appear in the 1998 reissue series, so it may actually be the 1990 remastering.

Highly recommended.

* Richard Osborne, 'Herbert von Karajan: A Life in Music'(1998), chapter 44.
This conversation took place two years after Karajan had achieved his lifetime ambition of being named Conductor-for-Life of the Berlin Philharmonic.

P.S. Five other conductors from this generation also left us complete Beethoven Symphonies, but not in stereo:
- Felix Weingartner (1863-1942).............Debut: 1884
- Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957)...............Debut: 1886
- Willem Mengelberg (1871-1951)..........Debut: 1891
- Carl Schuricht (1880-1967)...................Debut: 1900 (symphonies recorded by French EMI, 1957-58, Symphonies 1-8 inexplicably in mono)
- Wilhelm Furtwangler (1886-1954).........Debut: 1906

P.P.S. Two additional Nineteenth Century conductors - Sir Thomas Beecham (1879-1961) and Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977), left us with a sizeable legacy of stereo recordings, but neither recorded all Nine of the Beethoven Symphonies.

P.P.P.S. Ernest Ansermet (1883-1969) almost made the list, but he started conducting too late, in 1912. He did record the Beethoven Symphonies in stereo (available on Eloquence Australia), but he trained as a mathematician - so he missed all that icky "Romantic" stuff, and was always more at home in the Twentieth Century (highly recommended even so).

P.P.P.P.S. Toward the end of his life, Klemperer sometimes took up the baton again, but he just just stuck it in his fist. Not a baton technician.
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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 9 Jan 2013 18:45:42 GMT
[Deleted by the author on 13 Jan 2013 22:02:28 GMT]

Posted on 9 Jan 2013 20:48:45 GMT
I agree.

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Jan 2013 21:11:42 GMT
[Deleted by the author on 13 Jan 2013 22:02:39 GMT]

Posted on 8 Feb 2013 17:40:07 GMT
Last edited by the author on 8 Feb 2013 17:47:11 GMT
J.A.W. says:
Just listened to this set for the first time: Klemperer's great mono interpretation of the "Eroica" from the mid-1950s. I suspect that a fair amount of noise reduction was used during mastering, the music sounded pretty muffled on my system (Mark Levinson front end and amplification, Quad electrostatic speakers). I compared it to the Naxos CD version that was mastered by Mark Obert-Thorn; though the Naxos sounded clearer, I got the impression that noise reduction was also applied to that one. The source used for the Naxos (probably 78s) was clearly (and obviously) inferior to the one used for the EMI box. Can't say which one's my favourite.

Posted on 17 Apr 2013 18:08:43 BDT
Last edited by the author on 17 Apr 2013 18:09:20 BDT
michael H says:
In fact some of the Schuricht performances were recorded in stereo. Testament have the 9th in stereo (a recording that was once available on a CFP LP) and I have a copy of a French LP pressing of the 7th in what sounds to me in genuine stereo. I don't understand why the Pathe Marconi CD set is only in mono. Is that also true of the latest Icon set I wonder.

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Apr 2013 19:00:25 BDT
Last edited by the author on 19 Apr 2013 19:01:00 BDT
Yes - I just listened to Schuricht's Beethoven in EMI's most recent incarnation: the 8 CD "Icon" box (with 3 Bruckner Symphonies).
The 9th is in stereo. I corrected my review.
There is no indication of this on the box or in the booklet, just in fine print on the CD label.
I then listened to the other 8 symphonies on headphones, hoping for the best.
Disappointment.
They are mono - actually they sound like some electronic stereo enhancement may have been applied.
True mono sounds like 100 musicians are crammed into a small spot in the center of your brain,
this has a bit more space around the orchestra, but no real directionality.

Posted on 3 Jan 2015 16:02:22 GMT
jonjo says:
Another outstanding review.Your insights into this conductor and your habit of peppering your reviews with fascinating anecdotes make them unmissable.
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