Top positive review
26 people found this helpful
on 4 November 2012
Contained within this modest, little clam-shell box are some of the mightiest recordings of Bruckner's music ever committed to disc. Magisterial, granitic, gigantic slabs of sound piled high, block upon block towering above the Brucknerian landscape, imposing and eternal. Klemperer does not concern himself with tonal beauty, he focuses on clarity of orchestral detail which is enhanced by his predilection for slow tempi. Klemperer's Bruckner was as inflexible, uncompromising and just as severe - at times - as the man himself. Klemperer was a survivor - he escaped the Nazis - beset by illness and accident prone his indomitable will remained unbowed. He was burned by fire, broke a hip when he slipped on ice and survived a brain tumour! Klemperer - who suffered from manic depression - was an incorrigible old philanderer and as curmudgeonly as most conductors of his generation - he possessed a VERY sharp tongue! Record producer, Walter Legge, erudite and astute with a head for business and impeccable taste in music convinced Klemperer to accept the position of principal conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra - Legge's orchestra - in 1959. There began a long association which saw Klemperer and the Philharmonia produce many legendary recordings including these Bruckner symphonies which are a product of that long, golden Indian Summer at Columbia/EMI.
The recordings of the Fourth, Sixth, and Seventh symphonies have long been considered amongst the finest recordings available and as such they need no recommendation from me - they are excellent in every way. However, the Fifth, Eighth and Ninth have found little favour since their release - particularly from "professional reviewers". Klemperer's recording of the Eighth has courted controversy - and much gnashing of teeth - from the moment it first hit the record shelves. The conductor's decision to make two swingeing cuts in the Finale has caused many a Brucknerian to utter obscenities - I have witnessed this - and vow never to listen to another Bruckner/Klemperer LP. Yes, vinyl - it was a long time ago! Klempererian mythology tells the tale of how the cuts were made in order to accommodate all of the music on the original vinyl format due to the Scherzo clocking in at almost twenty minutes. However, Klemperer made these cuts because he believed that Bruckner was, and I quote: "... so full of musical invention that he went too far." The quotation is taken from a programme for the New Philharmonia concert in London on 17th November, 1970. Klemperer goes on to say how he takes the responsibility for his own interpretation - well, I wouldn't have challenged him! Despite the cuts in the symphony's Finale and its slow motion tempi one is so over-awed by the sheer immensity of Klemperer's vision, his dogged determination to have his say, that surrender is the only option! With Klemperer's cuts the symphony comes out fighting like a wounded animal and displays a tenacious do-or-die spirit! Klemperer's Eighth has granite-like orchestral sonority, intellectual objectivity and uncompromising inflexibility and one can only admire and accept this as being the work of a truly gifted maestro whose integrity is beyond question.
The monumental Fifth symphony is played out on a vast canvas - read my review - the epitome of Brucknerian architecture. Again Klemperer's tempi are slow and there are many who will find such Gothic splendour a little overwhelming - tonal beauty and lyricism are not qualities which appealed to Klemperer who saw the bigger picture, and this recording presents the Fifth as the archetypal Brucknerian monolith revealing the structure of Bruckner's "contrapuntal masterpiece" as never before. Klemperer's recording of the Ninth falls victim to sub-standard orchestral playing - poor ensemble and lack of precision and co-ordination from the brass and strings is more marked in this recording. The Scherzo's Trio section is leaden and rhythmic articulation poor and the Finale has its moments, but ultimately fails on both a spiritual and emotional level to convey the full meaning of the music. Having said all this, there is that relentless, inexorable, forward momentum which is compelling - one feels duty bound to remain with Klemperer to the very end and witness the construction and completion of a vast structure. One aspect which never fails Klemperer is his unerring grasp of architecture whcih reveals itself time and time again throughout this set of recordings. Klemperer assumed the mantel of grand old maestro, he was the idol of the British musical public and with his passing was extinguished one of the brightest stars in the Bruckner universe...
Despite their flaws these Bruckner recordings remain a force to be reckoned with and are an essential purchase for all true Brucknerians. Of course, there are few, if any, problems in recommending the Fourth, Sixth and Seventh - they represent Klemperer's art at its finest. I was pleased to receive this set and enjoyed its contents immensely, not least because a good few of my old Bruckner/Klemperer/EMI CDs are starting to curl up at the edges - literally! It's always good to have back-up!