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Well, this still does it for me...
on 25 December 2013
Reading the myriad reviews of this famous disc is similar to attending a nutters' convention: all opinions may be encountered, some so eccentric as to be worth it purely as entertainment, but very few of any real worth or insight.
One thing I did pick up from a dissenting voice is the acute and accurate observation that Kleiber and his sound engineers "cheat" during the transition from the Scherzo to the finale in the Fifth: the end of the third and the beginning of the fourth movement come from different takes and sound-worlds and as such represent a bit of jiggery-pokery whereby the impact of the crashing chords is artificially manufactured. Listen carefully and you'll hear it - but it works very well as a recording, even if it couldn't be done live.
Otherwise, these are terrific performances, an amalgam of recordings from 1974 and 1976 which has stood the test of time. The Santa Fe listener reports that even in blind listenings, his auditors all agreed that Kleiber had created something special in both accounts. Some reviewers have complained that the second movement of the Seventh is too brisk but to me it's all of a piece with a thrilling piece of symphonic theatre, energised and compelling in its approach. It is true that there are comparably fine versions from Szell, Reiner, Bernstein and Karajan which are not very different from these and all part of a grand tradition of rendering unto Beethoven both the grandeur and the almost manic propulsiveness the music demands, but the point is that this pairing will prove deeply satisfying to the vast majority of lovers of Beethoven's symphonies.
I hadn't revisited them for some time before today, this 25th December, when after a splendid lunch I settled myself in an IKEA Poang easy-chair in my conservatory with a cigar and a glass or two of Sancerre and listened contentedly while contemplating our twinkling Christmas tree, tastefully decorated in red and gold. I grant you that such circumstances and environment predisposed me to be highly receptive to genius of Carlos Kleiber and the Vienna Philharmonic but nothing I heard could do other than enhance my blissful state of mind.
Under Kleiber's magisterial baton, the horns are virtuosic, just bordering on hysteria in their attack, the strings whirl like incandescent dervishes and the woodwind caress the ear like Ulysses' Sirens - yes, dear reader, I rather enjoyed it.