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on 14 April 2013
First a bit of a gripe - Whyever did EMI not include Klemperer's recording of 'The Flying Dutchman' in this box? I believe this is the sole example of a complete Wagner opera in his recorded legacy. Given that omission the set is still worth 5 stars.
I have a confession to make - I only bought it for the exceprts from "Die Walkure" - the whole of Act 1 and Wotan's Farewell from Act 3 - which I somehow missed in their earlier CD incarnations and my LPs are now almost unplayable. These are wonderful recordings. Act 1 is sung by Helga Dernesch, William Cochran and Hans Sotin (whose names EMI disgracefully omit in the accompanying booklet) and Wotan's Farewell - beautifully paced, a little slower than usual but perfect, is sung by Norman Bailey (whose name does appear in the notes). The set is worth buying just for these extracts. We also get the usual overtures, preludes and 'bleeding chunks' - superb performances all. In addition to the 'Walkure' excerpts we also have the incomparable Christa Ludwig singing the Wesendonck-Lieder (in the orchestration by Mottl) and the Liebestod from 'Tristan und Isolde'. Pure heaven, In the former Klemperer really understands where they stand in relation to the 'Liebestod' which follows them. The Srauss works are equally excellent. In addition to a beautiful, heartfelt recording of Metamorphosen (from 1961, when Klemperer was 76 years old, Barbirolli was 68 when he recorded his superb version in 1967) and The Dance of the Seven Veils from 'Salome' (why oh why did Klemperer never record 'Der Rosenkavalier' or 'Salome' - they would indubitably have been something special) we have 3 of the shorter tone poems - Don Juan, Tod und Verklarung and Till Eulenspiegel. For the first time I actually enjoyed Tod und Verklarung a work I have hitherto been unable to 'get'. This set is essential listening for anyone who loves the music of Strauss and Wagner and at the modest price asked for should be snapped up immediately.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 11 March 2016
What a stupendous set this is, not only for Klemperer's masterly control but for the sheer virtuosity of the (New) Philharmonia Orchestra, who time and again sound like the greatest orchestra in the world, not forgetting their Berlin counterparts. What an array of talent Legge assembled; the horns and strings in particular are flawless, sonorous and absolutely thrilling; it is so ironic that his attempt to disband them resulted in them regrouping as the New Philharmonia and re-affirming their special relationship with their aging conductor, who did some of his best work with them.

I hardly know where to start: for a risible outlay you can acquire, in very acceptable early stereo, analogue sound, beautifully remastered, one of the best anthologies of Wagner's orchestral music and a splendid account of Act I of the "Die Walküre", a priceless version of "Wotans Abschied" from Norman Bailey in majestic voice, plus recordings of five of Richard Strauss's showpiece tone poems to rival any in the catalogue. I was gripped by everything here, even though I acknowledge that frequently Klemperer's tempo can initially seem marmoreal, yet when you stick with it he delivers Wagnerian apotheosis in spades, abetted by playing of the highest calibre from his orchestra.

I should point out that the Act I from ""Die Walküre" is available here on CD3 for a fraction of the cost of the equivalent disc on the Testament label. It is not necessarily the finest you can hear, but it is very, very good, with the relatively unknown American Heldentenor William Cochran often sounding like a young James King when only in his mid-twenties. He might not eclipse Vickers or Melchior in "Siegmund heiss'ich" or always have the most ingratiating tone, but he has heft and stamina and when he is complemented by those wonderful horns he is completely convincing - and thrilling. What a pity, then, that Klemperer let him cop out of giving proper length to the top A on "Wälsungen Blut". Helga Dernesch likewise sounds similar to Leonie Rysanek with the dark, burnished mezzo tinge to her soprano (she of of course sang in both tessituras in her career) and Hans Sotin gives us a magnificently vocalised Hunding who sounds almost too noble.

The orchestral excerpts are stunning but if you like your Wagner vocal then Norman Bailey fulfils your every desire as a magnificent Wotan; at 37 years old he is in prime vocal estate and sings "Leb wohl" like a real god. Waves of voluptuous sound - those horns again! - support him and you'll be punching the air at that last "fürchtet". The subsequent Magic Fire Music dances in too leisurely a manner, however.

Then we hear one of Christa Ludwig's best recordings, in presumably the same, unchanged remastering from 2006 which was already very good, of the "Wesendonck Lieder", when she was very much in her dramatic soprano phase - hence the recording of the "Liebestod" at a time when she was toying with the idea of yielding to Karajan's urging to sing Isolde. It is very successful per se but she was no doubt wise to decline to sing the whole role, especially given the vocal crisis she experienced and surmounted in the early 70's.

The orchestral items spanning all eleven of Wagner's operas from "Rienzi" to "Parsifal" and including the "Siegfried Idyll" to boot, demonstrate Klemperer's affinity with the composer's idiom; "Rienzi" may have its longueurs as a work but he overture is a masterpiece. Everything here is played majestically, without compromise and with an iron grip over the sweep of the music; furthermore, unlike some conductors who seem to sacrifice homogeneity to spontaneity, Klemperer ensures that moments like the final chords are totally crisp and unanimous. The "Tannhäuser" overture at first lacks momentum but the central Venusberg section is intense and compelling. The greatest playing comes in Siegfried's Funeral Music, but one could equally point to the grandeur of the excerpts from "Die Meistersinger" or the glowing, ethereal rapture of the Preludes from both "Lohengrin" and "Parsifal". A final pointer to the splendour of Klemp's Wagner: the upward spiralling chromatic octave given to the strings at 8'37" in "Die fliegende Holländer"; magic!

And on to the Strauss, which really took me by surprise; these are accounts to match and rival those by Karajan, Kempe, Reiner et al. The "Metamorphosen" is very fine, lyrical and flowing, demonstrating ye again the virtuosity of the musicians, even if it does not match Karajan and Sinopoli in intensity. The "Don Juan" is terrific - one of the best I know - with extraordinary weight and attack, rivalling my favourite version by Szell. The middle section is slow: rapturous, languorous and a showcase for the woodwind, especially the oboe. We are hearing a great orchestra in full flight; listen to the perfectly poised F signalling the Don's demise. The "Tod und Verklärung" is another gem; some might first hear it as a tad a cumbersome but it builds inexorably to a wonderful climax of Wagnerian splendour. The dance from "Salome" is a wild ride, wholly satisfying and the concluding "Till Eulenspiegel" is warm, genial and and generous, with lots of pointed narrative detail in this, the most specifically graphic and pictorial of Strauss's tone poems.
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The best-selling purveyor of Wagner's "bleeding chunks" (George Bernard Shaw's phrase) in the stereo era was Herbert von Karajan.
In the last thirty years of his life, he recorded and re-recorded them as many as three times each with the Berlin Philharmonic or the Vienna Philharmonic, for DG and EMI.
He did the same with the tone poems of Richard Strauss.

His performances make an interesting comparison with those of Otto Klemperer
[Klemperer was one of the few colleagues Karajan admired. Toscanini was another].

In the first place, contrary to popular perception, Karajan was usually SLOWER than Klemperer.
More importantly, their sound world was completely different.
Karajan was the ultimate Twentieth Century conductor.
He favored a big, lush, homogeneous orchestral sound.
Otto Klemperer (born 1885) also favored a big sound, but it was a Nineteenth Century sound with maximum clarity and detail.

Klemperer's strings were seated in an arc: First Violins, Basses, Cellos, Violas, Second Violins.
Not all violins scrunched together on the left, and lower strings on the right, which you will hear with Bernstein, Karajan and Solti. *
Their 20th Century seating arrangement has become almost universal, but Klemperer's is the orchestra that Richard Wagner was familiar with.

I'm not denigrating Bernstein, Karajan or Solti; Its just that Klemperer came from a completely different world; A Nineteenth Century world he shared with Richard Wagner.

[hint: for ease of navigation, read the review though to the end, then come back and click on the links.]

Sir Adrian Boult recorded much of this same music for EMI: From Bach to Wagner
He also used divided violins.
Fine performances, but they lack the clarity of Klemperer.
Klemperer's 1960-63 recordings were made in Kingsway Hall.
Boult's 1972-74 recordings were made in the Abbey Road Studio.
The earlier recordings are much to be preferred.
So much for progress.
Klemperer's Philharmonia was also a much better orchestra than Boult's London Philharmonic.

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.

Toward the end of his life, the effects of old age sometimes caused Klemperer to slow down.
The Walkure Act 1 was recorded at his final recording session.
It is very slow indeed: 71 minutes, 43 seconds.
I sometimes think Klemperer's mental illness caused him to slow down in an obsessive need to hear everything.
Listen to Act 1 over headphones (string basses chugging away in the left channel).
The absolute clarity is amazing.
Surprisingly lyrical.
The singers are an unbalanced lot.
Siegmund and Sieglinde are completely overshadowed by Hunding.
Hans Sotin turns in a terrifying performance. What a bass!

My only complaint is the absence of texts and translations for the vocal works.
Predictable with these bargain boxes.
Still sad.

Textual Points:
Fliegende Hollander Overture - The booklet notes imply that Klemperer uses the 1843 original version.
In fact, he uses the revised version of 1860.
He did, however, record the 1843 version of the entire opera for EMI: Wagner: Der Fliegende Hollander (Klemperer) - or - Wagner: Der Fliegende Holländer
A rarity and a fine performance, worth seeking out.

Siegfried-Idyll is not played by the full Philharmonia Orchestra, but by 13 musicians recreating the 1870 first performance.

Siegfried's Rhine Journey is exactly that.
Most conductors join it to the Dawn Music (skipping the Siegfried-Brunnhilde duet).
Klemperer starts cold with the allegro of the Rhine Journey.
It was taken aback when I first heard it, but its actually quite invigorating.
The effect is a lot like the opening of Robert Schumann's Rhenish Symphony.

Richard Strauss:
Death and Transfiguration and Metamorphosen are two meditations on death and the eternal, one from the start of the composer's career, the other from the end.
Klemperer gives hair-raising performances.
The other three tone-poems are very good, though not as challenging.

Fine Sound: EMI's second series of re-masterings (24-bit) from 1998-2006 were used when available (3/4 of the box).

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.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

* 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.
This is 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).
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].
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on 19 September 2015
I bought this particularly for Klemperer's performance of the first act and last section of Die Walkure (which is all he recorded of it, sadly). It's here sounding as good as it did on vinyl when I had it in the 80s, and this is an excellent buy just for that reissue which is quite had to find. For the rest it's wonderful music making, in my opinion, with Klemperer doing slower speeds than almost any conductor ever, but nonetheless still the music sounds vital and pulls you forward with remarkable energy. Highly recommended if you like monumentality in your romantic diet.
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on 3 October 2013
Most of these show Klemperer at his best in this music in the early 1960s. The performances have power and elegance in equal measure. It is a pity that some of the extracts ('chunks') lack the vocal lines ('bleeding') so that they form examples of Tovey's criticism of Wagner extracts as 'bleeding chunks'. The late Act I recording of Die Walkure is less successful, being extremely slow, but has a sense of the musical architecture that is infallible. The only thing missing is the complete Hollander, but that is available elsewhere. Definitely worth hearing by those brought up to the more modern, objective style of Wagner conducting.
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on 30 May 2013
A wonderful set of performances of key works by Wagner (including a full Act 1 of Walkure) and Strauss. Musically these are very interesting and well played. At the same time the set includes some of the less commonly performed works, including the wonderful Rienzi overture. The Strauss tone poems are exquisite as well, and the whole set is a must have for music lovers at a bargain price.
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on 16 January 2016
Excellent
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