***** This is an absolutely fabulous set. At the time of these performances Klemperer was at the height of his powers and definitely the greatest living conductor of the day. All the Mozart performances are sheer perfection with a wonderful naturalness, taut springy rhythms, a luminous purity of sound and the most beautiful orchestral playing. The Schumann fourth symphony has an electrifying exhilaration, which had this listener on the edge of his seat with its combination of rhythmic precision and excitement, the serene beauty and simplicity of the second movement Romanze, and the amazing separation of the various musical strands in the transition from the third movement into the fourth movement. The onward rush to the coda of the finale is simply tremendous. The Beethoven second symphony from the same concert is on the same exalted plane, with a whooping exultant recapitulation at the end of the first movement and a really beautiful flowing Larghetto where the divided strings weave a magical intertwining of the layers of sound. The symphony ends in extraordinary high spirits and seems bigger and better than ever.
The two Brahms works date from a Festival Hall concert, with the Philharmonia Orchestra, in November 1956. The Tragic Overture is tremendously dramatic, stark and powerful, and it seems much bigger than usual with an organic wholeness that is very unusual in this work. It is interesting that it is very slightly faster than the performance given by Arturo Toscanini with the same orchestra in the same hall two years previously. The same comparison with Toscanini goes for Klemperer’s performance of the second symphony; Klemperer’s is marginally the faster of the two. And, what a performance this is! This is quite stupendous in its impact. The orchestral playing is superlative: from the eloquent warm sound of the cellos, to the scampering, chattering woodwinds to the blaze of sound in the finale it all adds up to an overwhelming experience. The exultation at the end of the finale of the symphony is simply unbelievable and the roar of applause that follows shows what the audience thought of this performance. It is hard to conceive of a greater performance of the Brahms second symphony than this one.
Bruckner’s seventh symphony receives a performance in a million. From the opening tremolo bars on the violins to the statement of the main melody on the cellos with a hint of tremendous brass power not far away, though to the deeply felt Adagio, the swaggering Scherzo, and the triumphant finale this performance has a coherence and accumulative power that is overwhelming. The only slight drawback is that the recording at times becomes a trifle congested at times due to the sheer intensity of the sound that Klemperer conjures up from the magnificent BBC Symphony Orchestra.
Finally, there is Fetes from Debussy’s Nocturnes. London rarely got to hear Klemperer conduct Debussy, yet according to Klemperer’s own memoirs Debussy had made a great impression on him at the start of his career. This Fetes is very strong and sinuous, very much in the Boulez mold. The playing is crystal clear and very dramatic.
As stated at the start of this review this set is very special indeed. I urge you to go out and buy it. And please can we have more performances by Klemperer from this source.
I'm not going to disagree with the other reviewers and I know that after the Festival Hall performances here were given, the house acoustic was tweaked. All the same, was it ever as resonant and - well - muddy, as these Brahms performances sound? This is not all that far away in time from the studio Brahms sessions with their carefully plotted and balanced playing in which more of the score can be heard than in almost any other recordings. The opening of the Second symphony as heard here can hardly be decoded, especially where the high violins take over from the rocking brass at the end of the first couple of pages. Have Mr Itter's tapes been "improved"? At one point something like a referee's whistle is heard. But nothing is going to deter Klemperer, thank goodness. This Brahms is unstoppable. But it's not exactly the Philharmonia at its best, for all the determination, and the spirit. The Beethoven and Schumann are much better, and so is the Mozart.