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Brahms and the "Klemperer Sound",
This review is from: Brahms: Symphonies; Ein deutsches Requiem (Klemperer Legacy) (Audio CD)
The Brahms volume is a welcome addition to the new Klemperer Edition. It's also unnecessary.
Klemperer's Brahms has been continuously available for more than fifty years.
There have been three previous CD remasterings, the most recent in EMI's Great Recordings of the Century (GROC) series . Those 1997-1999 remasterings are re-used here.
To EMI's credit, the new set is ridiculously inexpensive and the cardboard box looks good. Plus you can drop it without fear of breaking (I'm old).
On Amazon you can read plenty of positive reviews of earlier CD incarnations, including the identical GROC versions:
Brahms: Symphonies Nos. 1 - 4 / Haydn Variations / Alto Rhapsody / Academic & Tragic Overtures (Great Recordings of the Century) - and - Brahms: Ein Deutsches Requiem - or - Brahms: Ein Deutsches Requiem (Great Recordings of the Century).
Instead of reviewing it (OK, It's wonderful - buy it), I thought I would offer a few words about the "Klemperer Sound".
When I was a teenager, the conductors l listened to on my new stereo were Bernstein, Karajan and Ormandy.
I was new to classical music, but I figured out that a symphony orchestra consisted of two major string groups: Violins on the left; Lower Strings on the right.
A few years later, I bought my first Klemperer LP because it had a pretty cover.
I was surprised to find out that a symphony orchestra actually had five string groups:
Klemperer's strings were seated in an arc: First Violins, Basses, Cellos, Violas, Second Violins.
The blended 20th Century string sound has become almost universal, but Klemperer's antiphonal string sound is the orchestra that Brahms was familiar with.
You could hear a lot of unexpected detail - especially with headphones.
Not just highs on the left and lows on the right.
Lots of contrapuntal dialogue among the five groups. A revelation.
I was surprised that no one else had thought of it.
Some time later, I discovered that this was, in fact, the accepted seating arrangement for 200 years.
Brahms took it as a given while composing his symphonies.
Leopold Stokowski is credited with devising the modern seating plan with massed violins on the left.
Stokowski liked the richer string sound that resulted when the f-holes of both violin sections were facing the audience.*
Sacrificing clarity for fullness of tone: the "Philadelphia Sound."
This new system also made it easier for musicians to stay together, and Twentieth century conductors came increasingly to adopt it
(bot not Toscanini or Furtwangler, both of whom passed away before stereo could document their divided violins).
Contemporaries of Klemperer who remained loyal to divided violins in the stereo age included Monteux, Boult, Bohm, Kubelik and Bruno Walter.
But their recordings never enjoyed the combination of detail and weight of tone that Otto Klemperer's did.
Klemperer benefited from the synergy of the Philharmonia Orchestra, producer Walter Legge, the EMI engineering staff, and London's Kingsway Hall.**
[Fritz Reiner's earliest Chicago Symphony stereo recordings had divided violins, but by 1957 he had given up and adopted massed violins on the left].
Listen to these CDs while seated directly between two high quality speakers. Better yet, use headphones.
Not only did Klemperer have the best-sounding recordings, I soon came to realize that he was a very great conductor.
To my mind, the greatest of them all, certainly in the modern stereo era.
Otto Klemperer was not a graceful conductor.
He conducted with with his fists and a scowl on his face.
He stood an intimidating 6 feet, 6 inches tall, and had a reputation (deserved) for mental instability and irrational behavior (nowadays he would be called bi-polar).
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.
The irrational behavior was with him all his life.
Intentional or not, this had an effect on orchestra players.
Klemperer also had a reputation for slow tempos, but don't fear. His Brahms tempos are in the accepted normal range
(except for the Academic Festival Overture and the scherzo of the 4th Symphony - slowish, but cleanly articulated and dramatic).
The only drawback is no text or translations for the vocal works (they were included in the GROC edition).
* Not as lewd as it sounds.
The f-holes are two f-shaped holes on the top of the violin.
They serve to focus and project the sound coming from the interior of the instrument.
Violinists seated to the left of the conductor hold their instruments at a 45 degree angle toward the audience.
Those to the right hold their instruments at a 45 degree angle away from the audience (unless they're left-handed, then no problem).
** Alas, long since sacrificed for urban renewal.
P.S. The Variations on a Theme of Haydn were recorded in 1954. Too early for stereo. Good mono.
This was still Karajan's Philharmonia Orchestra (Dennis Brain led the horn section).
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 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 22 Feb 2013 16:10:38 GMT
Last edited by the author on 22 Feb 2013 16:11:13 GMT
Many thanks for that enlightening comment . I knew about the divided violins , and Mitteleuropäische orchestras like the Wiener Philharmoniker or the Dresden Staatskapelle are still seated that way , like the Berliner Philharmoniker . Years ago , I saw the Concertgebouw Orchestra being conducted by Eugen Jochum , also with second violins playing to the right hand site of the conductor .
No doubt that in the rich contrapuntal writing of Brahms or Bruckner such a seating will deliver a greater transparency in the finshed product .
What I didn't know , was the historical background to the American-inspired transition to the present disposition of an orchestra . But that the old way is still alive and kicking , can be seen with string quartets from - again - Mitteleuropa ( Tsjech , Hungarian and Austrian quartets ) . Yes , I know that the Alban Berg quartet had its cello on the right .
So , many thanks again and my best regards .
PS : Apologies for my clumsy English , I'm Flemish .
Posted on 21 Jun 2013 02:08:11 BDT
Bill Peter says:
Many thanks for this review. I'm a "newbie", so information like this is invaluable. BTW, OCD isn't a "disorder", but known to "baby-boomers" (like I am) as trainspotting, and the people anoraks.
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