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"Gustav Mahler recommends Herr Klemperer as an outstanding musician who despite his youth is already experienced and is predestined for the career of conductor.
He vouches for the successful outcome of a probationary appointment and is willing personally to provide further information."

In 1905 in Berlin, twenty year-old Otto Klemperer made his professional debut as a conductor.
The work was Mahler's 2nd, the "Resurrection Symphony".
The composer was in the audience.
After the concert, Mahler congratulated Klemperer on his performance.
Two years later, Mahler wrote a letter of recommendation that secured Klemperer's first professional appointment.

Actually, Klemperer only conducted 2% of this Symphony. The other 98% was conducted by Oskar Fried.
Fried engaged young Klemperer to conduct the off-stage band in the finale. *
You have to start somewhere.

Otto Klemperer had a life-long obsession with the music of Mahler, particularly the "Resurrection Symphony".
Between 1950 and 1971, he left us with eight recordings.
Amazingly enough, Klemperer holds the record as both the fastest and the slowest conductor of this symphony on record - timings from Peter Fulop's 'Mahler Discography':

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

67:04 = 1950 Sydney Symphony Orchestra broadcast - Fastest performance ever. A harrowing experience: Otto Klemperer Discoveries Vol. 1: Mahler: Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection"

70:51 = 1951 Amsterdam Concertgebouw broadcast with Kathleen Ferrier - Also a harrowing experience, less insane than the Australian performance: Mahler: Resurrection Symphony

75:35 = 1951 Vienna Symphony, studio recording - Still really fast, but a bit more reasonable: Sym 2/Das Lied Von Der Erde

79-80 minutes = 1962-65: Four performances on the fast side, but not unreasonably so:
Philharmonia (EMI studio recording in this box) + broadcasts by
Vienna Philharmonic: Symphony 2 / Resurrection - or - Klemperer conducts Mahler
Philharmonia: Mahler: Symphony No. 2 'Resurrection'; Mozart: Symphony No. 29
Bavarian Radio: Mahler: Symphony No. 2

98:50 = 1971 New Philharmonia broadcast - Slowest performance on record - used to be on LP, but has not been issued on CD. The only one I don't own. Aargh!

Klemperer's EMI recording times in at 80:10. This is actual elapsed time, not the printed time.
In 1990, EMI wanted to issue it on one CD, but 80 minute CDs were not possible with the technology of the time, so EMI engineers speeded up the tape.
Digital technology makes this possible without altering the pitch.
Just enough for a CD that timed in at 79:18 (thanks to J.M. Hughes for this inside information).
This dubious procedure was repeated for the 2000 EMI Great Recordings of the Century release.
So this box is the first appearance of Klemperer's EMI Mahler 2nd on CD at the correct speed.
As such it is an essential purchase for any serious Mahlerian.

The four Klemperer performances from 1962-65 are essentially the same conception.
The Bavarian Radio broadcast is marginally more intense than the EMI studio performance.
It was also well-recorded in stereo, but the EMI studio recording is unbeatable for clarity and warmth (recorded in Kingsway Hall).

Perhaps inspired by the need to remaster the 2nd Symphony, EMI also commissioned new remasterings of Symphonies 4, 7, 9 and Das Lied von der Erde.
This is the only volume in the new Klemperer Edition that has had such extensive work.
It was worth the effort.
I find all transfers preferable in clarity and warmth to previous attempts.
One caveat: My ears are 64 years old (ditto the rest of me) and I am probably not the best judge of fine gradations of sound.

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 Mahler was familiar with.
Klemperer's old-fashioned seating plan makes the conductor's job a lot harder.
Worth the effort. **

Nowadays, thanks to an unfriendly neighbor and a dog who demands three walks a day, I have been doing most of my listening on headphones.
The 2nd movement Landler of the 9th Symphony seems to have been composed with headphones in mind.
Give it a try (in Klemperer's recording).

Mahler's 7th Symphony has never appealed to me.
Interestingly, Bruno Walter and Otto Klemperer shared my opinion (they also avoided Symphonies 3, 6 and 8 - I am incredulous).
Symphony 7 seems like a let-down after the the raw emotion of Symphony 6.
Late in life, Klemperer reconsidered the 7th Symphony and left us with a really weird (meaning SLOW) recording of the work.

I still don't get the first four movements, but have come to an appreciation of the 5th movement (CD 4, track 1).
This movement has nothing in common with with the rest of the symphony.
It seems like a throw-back to the world of the First Symphony.
All fanfares, chorales and peasant dances.
Its actually quite vulgar, but I now find it invigorating.
Klemperer's slow pace actually brings out the vulgarity more than Bernstein's streamlined reading.
One curiosity: After the initial drumroll and brass chorale, there is (at 1:05) a theme that sounds for all the world like a Broadway showtune.
I only noticed this in Klemperer's recording.

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

All serious Mahlerians need to own the recordings by Klemperer, Bruno Walter, Oskar Fried and Willem Mengelberg. ***
They were part of Mahler's inner circle for the last ten years of his life (he died in 1911).

The new Bach-Haydn box in the EMI Klemperer Edition, Bach, Rameau, Handel, Gluck & Haydn includes a Mahler rarity.
Christoph Willibald Gluck's Overture to Iphiginie en Aulide (1774) was re-orchestrated by Wagner in 1847.
The Gluck-Wagner overture was popular in the first half of the Twentieth Century.
Furtwangler, Mengelberg, Richard Strauss and Bruno Walter all conducted it.
I believe Klemperer's is the only recording in stereo.
According to the booklet notes, Klemperer conducted a version with further revisions by Gustav Mahler.
This was done in 1907, when Klemperer was part of Mahler's inner circle.
I don't think it's been published.
Apparently this is the world premiere recording of the Gluck-Wagner-Mahler Overture to Iphigenie en Aulide.
Its a monster.

2012 for Symphonies 2, 4 and 9.
2011 for Symphony 7 and Das Lied von der Erde.
1999 for five songs with Christa Ludwig (the GROC remastering).


* In 1924 Oskar Fried recorded Mahler's "Resurrection Symphony" with the Berlin State Opera Orchestra: The Music Of Gustav Mahler
This was the first ever recording of a Mahler symphony. Its an acoustic recording.
A reduced orchestra and chorus were crammed into a room facing a giant horn (no microphones).
No such luxury as an off-stage band this time, so Klemperer wasn't needed.
Hard to listen to, but worth the effort.

** 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].

*** Bruno Walter recorded Symphonies 1, 2, 4, 5, 9 and Das Lied von der Erde in multiple performances for EMI, Decca and Columbia (Sony)
Mengelberg recorded the Adagietto of the 5th Symphony in 1926: Great Conductors - Mengelberg , and a complete broadcast of the 4th Symphony in 1939 (once available on Philips, it can still be found on some smaller labels).

P.S. In case you haven't noticed, I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
Not debilitating, but my need to know every detail can get out of hand.
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on 13 February 2015
A solid set or performances by Klemperer of the Mahler symphonies he cared to conduct with the well-known exception that the Seventh Symphony is much too slow. The structural understanding that Klemperer always brought to great music is a considerable asset here and the conductor receives a better recording quality on these disks than was given to his rival, Bruno Walter (actually more closely associated with the composer historically than Klemperer) even in the latter's stereo performances emanating from California. Choice would normally be between these two, the consistently revelatory Horenstein whose mother was from Vienna and Bernstein who started the revival of interest in Mahler's music with his CBS recordings in the 1960s. However, completists should note that of the ten major works (nine symphonies and das Lied) Klemperer recorded only these 5, Walter managed 6 by including symphonies one and five but not seven, Horenstein 9 (all but the rather vital second symphony from a number of different sources including Pristine, France) and Bernstein all 10 (from CBS/Sony and DG). However, both Klemperer and Walter were honest in avoiding the symphonies they didn't understand or rate and it would be a mistake to reject their recordings in favour of the efforts of lesser more recent conductors contracted to record the whole cycle.
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on 13 May 2013
Otto Klemperer's association with Mahler himself, and his recordings of about half of the major works, are familiar to many music lovers, and make no mistake, here in this superb-value boxed set, all lovingly remastered very recently, are performances which have stood the test of time, and remain at or near the top of any Mahler recommendations.

Possibly the best thing here is The Resurrection, beautifully paced, beautifully sung, and as dramatic and overwhelming as any recording I know. It's now just over 80 minutes long, by the way, suggesting that the rumours of the earlier CD releases having been sped up slightly could well be true. The Fourth too has an elegance that is hard to beat, again beautifully sung in the finale by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, even if she is hardly boy-ish in her tone.

The last two great finished works of Mahler, Das Lied and the 9th Symphony benefit here from Klemperer's stately approach. I miss the zing that someone like Solti gets into the inner movements of No.9, but there is something inherently "right" about the Klemperer way, and both are moving performances, even on the nth hearing. Das Lied is genuinely a performance of stature, with Christa Ludwig cool, but powerful in the bigger songs, and (an often overlooked consideration) Fritz Wunderlich living up to his name in the tenor songs, the best tenor recording I have of this piece. I do prefer Janet Baker to Ludwig, but I fancy a touch more warmth in Der Abschied, merely a personal preference, which no doubt many will disagree with. Ludwig is also excellent in the selection of songs included in this box, three of the Ruckert Lieder and a couple of Wunderhorn songs (incidentally the only items not newly remastered).

I knew these recordings from before, but I am glad I have invested in this absurdly cheap box, as the recordings now sound fresher, clearer and almost ageless. And as a set it is worth having for these four big recordings, which are, as I said among the best ever made.

And the worst? Klemperer's Mahler 7 is surely one of the most appalling renditions of any major work ever committed to disc. This is a version new to me, and I did buy the box almost exclusively so as to check this reading out. There is some beauty in the performance (well done all members of the New Philharmonia for persevering!) especially some lovely passages in the two Nachtmusiks, but to all intents and purposes this sounds like someone conducting a professional orchestra at school orchestra rehearsal pace. Somehow Klemperer takes just over a hundred minutes to get through the work, and it feels significantly longer! My favourite readings - Abbado and Solti - are not unusual in taking 20-plus minutes less. The first movement lumbers along, never gain momentum, and the closing pages (among the finest music Mahler ever wrote) have none of that inexorable cumulative effect others do. Twenty Eight minutes!!!! Good grief!

It doesn't get much better. The "Castrol GTX" music of the second movement is hardly recognisable as the beautiful serenade it is, and the formally weak second nachtmusik drags and drags and drags, even though some have played it even slower than Otto! And while the best performance really let rip in the finale and go for it hell-for-leather, here it is all distinctly underwhelming. The booklet notes here describe the performance as "eccentrically laboured". An understatement, I'd say.

If you are intrigued by this infamous Seventh, don't be, it's dull, and will inspire intense dislike for what is a beautiful, fantastic, magical work. But if you want to hear a conductor at his very best, Nos. 2, 4, 9 and Das Lied are out of this world.
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on 12 June 2013
Klemperer's EMI studio recordings of Mahler's music are mostly fine, but they are not always the best Klemperer performances of this music that exist. The recording quality from EMI is generally excellent. If you explore the legacy of "live" Klemperer Mahler performances, available on other labels, you will not surprisingly often be forced to sacrifice something in terms of sound quality while gaining in terms of the added intensity and excitement of "live" performance.

There are at least five or six other Klemperer performances of No 2. The "live" Concertgebouw one from 1951 with Kathleen Ferrier singing the contralto part has a feverish, ecstatic and sometimes savage intensity to it that makes it one of the most amazing recorded performances (of any music) that I know. Not for weak stomachs! - but the quality of the recording is considerably inferior. Even so, it will blow you away. This Philharmonia studio version is great, but not in that league. There exists also a Vienna Philharmonic performance caught live in June 1963, with Vishnevskaya and Rössl-Majdan, in which the orchestral playing, while not that tidy, has the unmistakeable idiomatic "rightness" and authentic timbre that this orchestra can bring to Mahler's music: that it was "his" orchestra between 1897 and 1907 somehow magically still seems to come out. This performance, like the Amsterdam one, has very special qualities that make it essential listening for Mahler-lovers. However, the quality of the recording is a drawback: it is clean, but noticeably constricted and lacking in the depth that this symphony demands. Very much better recorded is the Bavarian Radio Symphony performance from January 1965 with Heather Harper and Janet Baker, which has been available on EMI and is magnificent, if you can make allowances for some very slow tempi in places, and some moments of unconvincing balance in the recording of the orchestra. All three of these live performances arguably are even more compelling than the Philharmonia studio recording, itself very fine.

At least four "live" performances of No 4 have been preserved. I know (and much admire) the 1955 Concertgebouw version with Maria Stader. It has greater sparkle than the EMI effort with Schwarzkopf, and the mono recording is clear if a touch light at the bass end, and with slightly strident upper string sound. However, if you dare to play it at high volume the sound opens out considerably and there is an amazing amount of telling instrumental detail, with the Concertgebouw players at the top of their game. The long (19 mins)and protean slow movement becomes something penetrating under Klemperer's direction, by turns blissful, disturbing, anguished and serene. The finale is a delight, providing a moving rounding-off of the symphony, paradise with just a touch of moistness around the eyes, because this paradise is not attainable without mortality. All in all a magnificent performance, whereas the EMI one seems to me at the "very good indeed" level only. (I have yet to get to know two other Klemperer performances of this symphony from the 1950s, one with the Köln RSO and one with the Bavarian RSO.)

No 7 is a problem, in that it may be the only symphony of those issued here of which a "live" performance does not also exist. I think that Klemperer took it up again in the late 60s, after not having performed it for very many years, (unlike Nos 2 and 4 which he performed on quite a number of occasions during the 50s and 60s), and when he recorded No 7, in 1968, he had reached the time in his career when his tempi really had slowed down a lot. There is much here that is very beautiful (particularly in the scherzo and the Nachtmusik 2), but the first movement lumbers awkwardly along at Klemperer's tempo, with a critical lack of "Schwung" (momentum), and, despite many evocative moments and much wonderfully audible detail, I find the Nachtmusik 1 also drags in places. In spite of magical moments and outstanding recording-quality, for this symphony as a whole other performers will be preferred: Abbado, Bernstein, Inbal, Kubelik, Barenboim ... However, this Klemperer recording needs to be listened to for its many insights.

The EMI recording of Symphony No 9 is austere, powerful and compelling. I have yet to investigate the "live" Vienna performance from 1968 that was available on Testament, and which some people describe as far superior to this EMI studio version.

The Lied von der Erde performance here is very fine indeed and wonderfully recorded. Ludwig in "Der Abschied" is one of the greatest among greats. (Klemperer's early 1950s Vox studio performance of this work, with the VSO, now that it exists in well-remastered form on CD, is worth investigating for comparison. It sounds remarkably good for 1951, with only a degree of constriction to the sound. Dermota is an excellent tenor soloist, and Elsa Cavelti is always committed and competent, while clearly (not her fault!) not equal to the competition on record (Decca) in the person of Kathleen Ferrier at the beginning of the 1950s. Some of the VSO wind playing is most beautiful, although the upper strings can sound thin. The tempo for Der Abschied seems just a whisker too flowing, this movement taking only 22:27.)

The songs on this EMI set sung by Ludwig are on the same elevated level as her contribution to Das Lied von der Erde.

You will have noticed that these remarks are based on incomplete evidence. I continue to get to know Klemperer's "live" Mahler performances, but a number remain that I have yet to hear.

In the meantime the message is: this is a fine collection, with (mostly) great recording quality. In terms of actual performances, if you pick and choose you can sometimes find preferable versions, also conducted by Klemperer, elsewhere. This is certainly true of Symphonies Nos 2 and 4 (and may be true of No 9). Even so, nobody will regret investing in this very inexpensive box, so long as they don't expect it quite to give the final word on this amazing music. That Klemperer was one of the direct links to Mahler and his time is often remarked on, but hearing the vividness, eloquence and (sometimes) rawness of his Mahler performances makes that link seem present and real even now.
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on 30 June 2013
I heard no.2 on an lp from my local library as a schoolboy and loved it. To have it so well restored is amazing. I like Klemperer's quick tempo for the first movement (yes I did say quick!). It never gets bogged down. The 4th I had not heard before. It is in any case one of my least favourite of Mahler's symphonies. However, I was won over by this performance. The 9th is rugged but deeply impressive - I once had it on Columbia label LPs. It has been beautifully processed and what little 'edge' is still present was there on the LP as I remember it. Das Lied I also had and it is good to have it again - still one of a handful of really good performances, and Wunderlich is a dream tenor for this. So that leaves the 7th, which I hadn't heard before, though I have heard other performances and love the work. This performance is let down by unbelievably slow tempi and I can only think that Klemperer was unwell when he recorded it. Still, for the bargain price of the set it is wonderful value and reminds one of what a great conductor could achieve, In fact if I didn't already have other performances of all these works, this box would probably suffice for all except no.7. Amazing 24 bit digitalisation equals or improves on the original LP recording quality as I remember it. Go buy.
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on 31 August 2014
Really wonderful remastering of classic recordings. With the exception of Mahler's 7th, which is too slow, this is a great set of recordings to own.
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on 19 June 2013
These remastered records of Mahler's most popular works are a revelation and Klemperer has a complete understanding of what the composer wanted . Each time these discs are played another new interpretation unfolds. Wonderful and can wholly recommend this boxed set - if you can find it.
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