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Customer reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
Romantic Symphonies
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on 27 December 2013
As an official 'senior citizen' it is an gives an enormous sense of pleasure to be able to afford and easily download music such as this. I enjoy listening on fairly simple headphones or through a comprehensive hifi system and the results are excellent.
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on 15 July 2013
A fine selection of OK's readings of some romantic symphonies and overtures.
He was over 75 years old when these were recorded and his interpretations
have a clarity and coherence second to none
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on 22 August 2013
From the 1960s Klemperer's interpretations have always seemed to me compelling, and to find them available in such box-sets and such attractive prices (with MP3 downloads an automatic addition) proved too alluring to resist. The items arrived as advertised, in good order and speedily. Excellent value all round.
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on 27 March 2014
for Klemperer fans this is probably a great feast. Others may find some of these performances a bit indigestible. The big bonus of all the performances is the clarity and balance Klemperer achieved by dividing the fiddles on left and right. Listened to through headphones the results are really illuminating. However, despite my lifelong admiration for the rugged integrity of Klemperer's Bruckner, Brahms and Beethoven (particularly some of the earlier Cologne performances) and several fine performances of Mahler's resurrection symphony, I have to say that some of these performances are just too heavy and plodding for me. Compared with the vivacity of Zinman's Schumann, Klemperer makes the spring symphony into a lecture on spring by a professor of botany rather than a life enhancing walk in the garden. Although the Franck fares better it simply does not glow like the wonderful performance by Silvestri. Sadly the Frank also suffers by being separated on to two cds. This symphony really does need to be heard without a break! The Berlioz is very interesting and I surprisingly found Tchaikowsky's Pathetique quite revelatory. At the price being charged by Amazon the box makes splendid value for money but there are not many performances here that I shall be returning to frequently, and for people more interested in the music than Klemperer the Silvestri box with similar repertoire, at a similar price is a much more reliable recommendation.
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on 31 January 2013
Very different interpretations; clear, rich ,well played, powerful, thoughtful, not I`m sure everybody`s cup of tea and may be not first choice in a number of works but well worth listening to as valid alternatives. Particularly liked Berlioz, Schubert Dvorak and Tchaikovsky 4. Unfortunately, there were fault5s on 2 cds so returned to zoverstocks still waiting resolution, refund or replacement
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on 6 November 2012
Good things come to those who wait, as they say, and I have waited precisely eighteen years for EMI to reissue Klemperer's complete cycle of Schumann symphonies. The box set - Romantic Symphonies and Overtures - represents nothing less than an embarras de richesses - where does one begin? The set is positively bursting with classic recordings of such elevated status that it demands one's attention! Under Klemperer's baton Schumann's symphonies have both weight and transparency, losing that impenetrable thickness of texture whch obfuscates inner detail. These Schumann recordings are a revelation and I wouldn't want to be without them. Mendelssohn's "Scottish" and "Italian" symphonies exhibit similar clarity of instrumental texture and despite - at times - somewhat deliberate tempi and insufficient drama and urgency orchestral climaxes have power and conviction in abundance. The incidental music: "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is a true classic of the gramophone, fizzing and sparkling with magic and mystery. The "fairies" - the Philharmonia Chorus - "dance with heavier boots", as record producer, Suvi Raj Grubb, once said and the Scherzo's measured tempo lacks energy and could use a sprinkling of "fairy dust", but such minor shortcomings fail to detract from the overall performance which is truly magical.

Klemperer takes his scalpel - sorry baton - to the score of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique and provides forensic analysis of the notes. The raging flames of romantic passion and unrequited love are somewhat subdued. Nonetheless, the subject matter, with all of its grotesquerie fully intact, is conveyed to thrilling effect. The Philharmonia play magnificently for Klemperer, making this one of the finest recordings of the work available. Franck's D minor Symphony gains in structural coherence when excessive emotionalism is absent and Klemperer's unmannered reading of the score unravels Franck's over-ripe orchestration revealing many details which are hidden in lesser recordings. Klemperer's reading of Schubert's Great C major Symphony is grand in scale and more imposing than is usually the case, as is the Eighth. Schubertian lyricism is more evident in the recording of the Fifth, but it too reveals its darker side under Klemperer's baton.

Klemperer brings Teutonic solidity and Brahmsian stateliness to Dvorak's Ninth Symphony. Once more, measured tempi allow the orchestra to breathe which allows much inner detail to emerge unhindered. There is some beautiful playing from the woodwind and power and precision from the brass and strings adds drama and dynamic contrast to this outstanding recording. Klemperer's recordings of Tchaikovsky's Fourth, Fifth and Sixth symphonies are lacking in orchestral colour and emotional depth - these are not the passionate outpourings of a wounded soul. Klemperer dignifies the music and spiritualizes Tchaikovsky's compositions adding to their stature. The various overtures, etc, are top-drawer recordings and brought much enjoyment, particularly Klemperer's heavyweight rendition of Weber's Freischutz Overture and Mendelssohn's invigorating "seascape", The Hebrides Overture.

The passage of time fails to diminish the impact of these recordings which remain relevant and highly desirable - a rich harvest indeed. I would have paid the asking price for the set of Schumann symphonies alone - my old set was stolen, back in 1994. As box sets go, it doesn't get much better than this, and at the asking price it's a steal!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 4 November 2012
I first started listening to classical music when I was fifteen - in 1964.
My first big crush was Herbert von Karajan.
I think I may have been influenced by the sheer look and feel of 1960s Deutsche Gramophon LP records.
They were twice as thick as American records, came in extra-wide plastic-lined sleeves, and didn't snap, crackle and pop like American records.

The infatuation with Karajan lasted about five years, until I discovered Otto Klemperer and Bruno Walter at my college record shop (what's a record shop?).
The American pressings were still pretty awful, but the music-making was revelatory: Walter was warm and comforting; Klemperer was imposing and majestic.
Still my two favorite conductors of the stereo era.

Both men were dinosaurs: holdovers from the Nineteenth Century who lived long enough to give us stereo recordings.

Bruno Walter made his conducting debut in 1894 and Otto Klemperer in 1905.
Both men's formative years were in the Nineteenth Century.

Young Bruno Walter could be tough. "Old" Bruno Walter with the Columbia Symphony was warm and fuzzy. Musicians loved him: Bruno Walter: The Edition

Otto Klemperer was never warm and fuzzy.
He conducted with his fists and a scowl on his face, and the music sometimes sounded like it.
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.

Pre-World War I musicians have a special mystique for me.
Inter-War musicians as well, but at a slightly less exalted level.
Post-World War II musicians much less so, though there are a few exceptions (Bernstein, Celibidache, Giulini).
The current crop, not at all.

I'm just too old for my own good.

EMI will be issuing eleven new Klemperer boxes at ridiculously low prices in the next 12 months.
This particular volume is basically odds and ends that didn't fit into other categories.

"Otto Klemperer Conducts Romantic Symphonies" seems like a contradiction in Twentieth Century terms,
but Otto Klemperer was actually quite a romantic character by Nineteenth Century standards
- something out of a Victorian melodrama by the Bronte sisters: Suffering and flawed.

5 1/2 CDs of the expected Klemperer repertoire: Mendelssohn, Schubert, Schumann and Weber.
4 1/2 CDs of wild card repertoire: Johann Strauss, Berlioz, Franck, Dvorak and Tchaikovsky.
The Mendelssohn is especially successful.
In this two-fisted performance, the Midsummer Night's Dream is not fairy music. I find it invigorating.
Johann Strauss sounds like Beethoven.
The biggest surprise for me was how well Tchaikovsky responds to the Klemperer treatment.

Warm Kingsway Hall and Abbey Road 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 these composers 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.

REMASTERINGS: The previously issued 1998-2000 EMI remasterings done in 24-bit resolution by Abbey Road Technology (ART) are here (about 80% of the contents of the box).
One disc was remastered in 2011 (Schumann Symphonies 3 & 4).

Highly recommended.

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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on 24 October 2014
Happy with item I purchased.
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on 21 February 2013
This is a fabulous bargain, bringing some long-deleted recordings back for us. They may be "romantic works", but they are conducted by a great classical symphonic conductor. The Tchaikovsky, Dvorak and Berlioz lose their national characteristics and stand extraordinarily well as written in the score, structure clear, almost no vibrato. To me their greatness is better revealed. I could go into detail but will just mention two. I was lucky enough to hear Klemperer conducting Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique at the time the recording was made. The March to the Scaffold is terrifying, the Witches' Sabbath - taken at a uniquely slow tempo - totally macabre. The tension at the end - captured on the recording - was incredible. Schumann's Spring Symphony - seldom heard - has surely never come across more grandly - even the rather weak theme in the last movement is integrated perfectly. Klemperer was one of the greatest interpreters ever, his oeuvre has a consistency that is remarkable - integrity, structure and the shedding of new light. There must be a Klemperer fan working at EMI Classics to give us these great recordings for comparative peanuts.
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on 30 July 2014
"Romantic Symphonies" is here simply a marketing category - Beethoven, Mahler, Bruckner, and Wagner being marketing categories in themselves, so not "Romantic". If you check dates, the scope of this box runs from just after the end of the Napoleonic Wars (Schubert 5) to the mid 1890s (Tchaikowsky, Dvorak). In fact the symphony was born at just about the time Romanticism was first turning its own cradle over, in the 1750s, and there are folk who would argue that the symphony is the quintessential Romantic art form - not just musical form - because it accommodates and if you are lucky resolves conflicting ideas. Isaiah Berlin suggested that the symphony was the model against which both Hegel and Marx understood historical development - a progression by"thesis - antithesis- synthesis" towards an ever closer potential perfection. After all most symphonies end optimistically. The default case for this collection, if anyone has bothered to make it, might be that theorists - a little later than Hegel, but never mind - defined sonata form and first outlined what it does with its themes in the mid 1820s. Or it might be that these are Klemperer recordings which did not fit into LP marketing boxes in the 1960s and 70s,,,,,,

Without prejudice ( that is to the rest of this review, having considered it) I have to say that if I were asked for an example of Klemperer bringing a 'Romantic Symphony' to disturbing and challenging life I would propose his 1960 Vienna live performance with the Philharmonia of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony, which even includes that most romantic of devices, a cut, - in the scherzo (the first movement repeat is observed) - which explains his controversially slow tempo for that movement was intended to bring on the storm - exactly as it should be - BEFORE you expect it, and to make the very romantic point that you could not have the eventual tentative reassurance of the finale's close without going through the storm first. There's nothing quite as penetrating as that in this box.

I started with the last item, the Tchaikowsky Fifth, partly because I'd never heard this performance, and partly because Richard Osborne's booklet quotes Walter Legge, who launched Klemperer's second career by making him free of the Philharmonia, and was his recording producer until the two fell out, as finding the results of the sessions for it "hair-raising". The scale of climax is certainly very impressive, and Klemperer very interestingly, as he often did, aims for a single consistent pulse as a unifying device across the movements. As the stereotype might lead you to expect, it's not a very rapid pulse - which helps the climaxes, and as a result the third, waltz, movement is fascinating to listen to since for once most of the detail is clear and in focus. but the converse is that the development section of the finale has to be heard as though it were a Prokofiev ostinato (a style it certainly anticipates) but even then it tends to plod. It's a controversial passage, of course - Mengelberg cut the entire section and stuck to the march - and at least Klemperer sticks to his guns. But the hair certainly does rise a bit in the first two movements, which are Klemperer at his best and most concentrated, with an unerring focus on the line. Wagner once said that the conductor's job is to know where the melody is. Klemperer knows, all right. Osborne suggests he was converted to the Fifth by a Furtwangler performance in the early 1930s, and I'll come back to that antithesis in another context.

Starting where I did, I convinced myself that the first item in this allegedly "Romantic" box would have to be the Symphonie Fantastique" but it turned out to be on disc 7 (there are 10). That position turns out to have been allotted to it not on grounds of Romantic narrative but language - it goes francophonically with Cesar Franck, with which it has very little else in common - Franck is for chorales, Berlioz for plainsong, Franck is almost gothically a Durchkomponist, Berlioz presents himself as an opera composer manque and disciple of Gluck, though both use a cor anglais. But the Franck has to be split, and its second and third movements land on the same disc as the Dvorak New World Symphony, of all things. Never mind - he's a nationalist, so he can sit with Berlioz and that Belgian chappie. The Cesar Franck is certainly optimistic, and Klemperer responds to its inherent grandiosity. Dvorak built the full romantic-nationalist agenda into his symphony, (excellently played and unsentimentally paced) asserting that it was, as an exemplar for American composers, grounded in genuine native and African-American idioms, which he intended to use again (he didn't) in a setting of stories of the alternative American past provided by Longfellow's Hiawatha (Romanticism is full of instant mythology and imaginary pasts - Longfellow's model had been the Kalevala, so we are perhaps unfortunate to have been deprived of Klemperer's Sibelius). A later American songwriter paid Dvorak the ultimate compliment of adapting the famous slow movement as a fake spiritual, which inevitably became ( and for some still is) the regularly cited 'Afro-American' source for the movement. Romanticism valued authenticity and feeling very highly, and also embraced fraud and fabrication with unbridled enthusiasm.

It could therefore land you in court, unless you were very careful. Imagine the Daily Mail front page after Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique artist had come before the Old Bailey. Banner headlines and a verbatim report of the judge's sermon, followed by minatory articles retrieved from their files by ageing columnists claiming to know all about narcotics, or obsession, or guilt. Klemperer's performance doesn't invite you to live the artist's life here and now, as the 1960s Stokowski on BBC Legends, where you can almost smell the opium, does. It's bleak. He places you in Berlioz's shoes after the break with Harriet Smithson and makes you contemplate reality. Nothing is forgotten and nothing is forgiven. The March to the Scaffold and the dream will recur, nightly, for the rest of your life. This is a perfectly valid conception and it isn't outside the bounds of Romanticism, but it's also fairly contemporary. Klemperer seems never to have been completely taken in by Romanticism.

It's useful to have this box enlivened with three works by the younger Johann Strauss - none of them symphonies, but, as Wagner and Brahms both recognised, he had all the skills, - in fact he was probably better at thematic metamorphosis than either of them. The Fledermaus overture, though more Hamburg than Vienna, is infectiously done, and Wiener Blut is fascinating. Shortly after the war, Furtwangler recorded the Kaiserwalzer, almost as a elegy to past glories - the coda, with the pizzicato clock ticking before it, as time recedes, is an evocation of old aristocratic days as poignant as anything on record. The subliminal thematic structure of the waltz happens to be the intervals of Haydn's Kaiser's hymn, and, without drawing attention in any way to them, Strauss and Furtwangler leave you in no doubt. Klemperer, face turned from Romanticism, sets out to democratise the piece, and puts you in a holiday twentieth century mid-Atlantic audience completely unaware of the K und K and all it meant. The brass has a field day. If there's any reminiscence here it might just be Klemperer's mentor, Mahler himself, who wouldn't allow any other conductor to touch Fledermaus. You're not all that far away from parts of the Mahler Fourth, or from Klemperer's own Merry Waltz, originally issued with the Strauss, but obviously not deemed appropriate for this box.

Legge regarded the Schumann symphonies as overblown piano suites, and Klemperer recorded only no 4 with him - a very important performance, as it happens. The Spring Symphony followed the breach with Legge in the early 1960s, and is clear-eyed and cogent, staying remarkably close to Schumann's metronome marks. It was supported on LP by the Manfred overture, an essay in obsession and guilt reflecting Schumann's interest, among other things, in the Symphonie Fantastique, which he admired and wrote about very perceptively. There is a comparably obsessive waltz in his Dichterliebe, which covers much the same ground as the Symphonie. Klemperer later followed this theme with recordings of Schumann's Faust Overture, and celebrated restored virtue at the end of an excellently judged Genoveva overture by strengthening the horn parts in the coda, producing an effect unheard in any other performance of the piece. The Second Symphony, not quite so well played, but very perceptively conducted, and at credible speeds - notalways what passes for the "tradition", illuminates the same territory to great effect, using another interesting tag, a theme from Beethoven's "An die ferne Geliebte' a source which also turns up in his Fantasy in C. The Third Symphony is a more debatable performance, in which the finale is very obviously slow. Many listeners can't quite get over this, since the impact at first hearing is inescapable. It could be argued that he thinks the tourists (Schumann began the work on a visit, though by the time of the premiere he had a none-too- happy conducting appointment in Dusseldorf) are reluctant to leave, thought Schumann didn't impose any such notion in his tempo for the score, or that Klemperer was once again trying to find a feasible common pulse, though the whole point of the finale might have been to depict the celebrations after a Cardinal's consecration in the then still unfinished Cologne Cathedral which seems to have inspired the fourth movement. The rest of the work is less controversial, but a little too grandiose in approach.

The Weber overtures don't go for brilliance, and are not that well recorded - the string parts in Freischutz are not as well defined as they can be and some of the subtleties in Oberon are not that easy to hear. With the Mendeslssohn works we come agin into disputed territory. There were earlier Vox recordings, for George de Mendelssohn Bartholdy, of both symphonies. The italian was in the way of the forties and early fifties fast, and not too well played, but took the repeat in the first movement, still rarely heard. Its second, Philharmonia, version was without the repeat, but completely rethought, resulting in a very original and effective andante which removes any suspicion that Mendelssohn's harmonies were easily chromatic - here they are pungent and pointed. The Scottish occasioned Klemperer's breach with Vox. He had recorded the first two movements. In his absence afterwards, Vox, withut consulting him, called in the very competent Herbert Haefner, who died young, to complete the recording - it may well be that he used Klemperer's performance materials. What Klemperer had left him is alive and individual, and the completion is a pity, but it's not without merit. But issuing the disc behind Klemperer's back was not very tactful. The Philharmonia version is weighty, serious and slower. Klemperer had no confidence in Mendelssohn's finale coda, which is chorale-like and staples optimism on to the end of a piece which is anything but forward-looking. Like its supporter on the original LP, the Overture to the Hebrides, also known by the fraudulent quasi-Gaelic title, Fingal's Cave, the work, apart from its coda, evokes the mythical alternative Scotland of James Macpherson's Ossian prose poems, which ironically had been turned into current reality over most of the Highlands by the introduction of large-scale sheep farming in the half-century or so after they had been written, and the consequent clearance of the tenant cattle farmers to make room for the sheep. It's not necessarily Mendelssohn's fault that he provided a musical legitimisation of all this, but it is one of the reasons for the poor effect of his attempt at an optimistic coda. Klemperer had composed an alternative, which Legge would not allow him to record. So the alternative past came trhough unscathed, and 'Romanticism' defeated Klemperer here. But we are always told that if marketing doesn't win, good musicians will starve in their old age.

The recordings and for the most part the playing are excellent. In my view, with one exception, the marvellous performance of the Midsummer Night's Dream music, the peaks of the box are the Symphonie Fantastique and the Schubert synphonies, which I haven't so far mentioned. The Great C Major's wanderer was familiar in the German landscape of travelling journeymen millers and well-heeled younger sons long before Schubert was born, and in the finale he reaches, for some reason, the point Don Giovanni gets to when he takes the statue's hand - Schubert's repeated C's are less than a stride from Mozart's D minor octaves. Klemperer pulls no punches - his own Don Giovanni was among the most powerful of his day, and the Schubert was a great success when it came out. It hasn't lost any of its power. The Unfinished is also excellent. And the warmly played Fifth symphony, the earliest work, but not the first in the box, is, like Beecham's, an ageing man's reflection on youth. All the concerns of guilt, obsession, ruin and lost opportunity that inform the rest of the box are yet to come. But Klemperer was not a Romantic, rather a realist seeking order and sense from the wildness of the Romantic movement. He doesn't always get it, but another Legge claim in Osborne's booklet comes to mind. Klemperer, he asserted, was a seeker after musical truth. This amounts to a charge of High Romanticism in itself. The man who conducted this Emperor Waltz could lead the recording in support of a not-guilty plea. And perhaps put the marketing claim in its place.

There's always a "but" with this great individualist, however. In this case, it's not a symphony, but it is one of Mendelssohn's greatest masterpieces, free of all his faults as a composer and exquisitely adapted to its purpose. Klemperer doesn't see it as an occasion for a virtuoso orchestra, so the scherzo is a little rustic, and perhaps it should be. But as a whole, and he had conducted it in the theatre, in a longish run, it is far and away the best performance recording has given us of the music to "A Midsummer Night's Dream". The humour and the poetry are all there, and so is, if not a "Romantic Symphony", the romance. It would swing any doubter towards buying the box.
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