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Customer Review

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A giant of the concert-hall in the 1950s and 1960s, 5 Feb. 2013
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This review is from: Bruckner: Symphonies 4-9 (Audio CD)
Klemperer arguably made his greatest recordings in the decade between 1955 and 1965. In his final years the Philharmonia (then renamed the NPO) no longer had the cream of London's string players within its ranks - and this can clearly be heard in his performances of symphonies 5, 8 and 9 - and Klemperer's increasingly slow pulse and lack of firm direction of his players meant that results were much less convincing. Why he made two substantial and disfiguring cuts in the finale of No. 8, we will probably never really know, but these alone put him out of contention with the great interpreters of this colossal work: Karajan, Giulini and Wand. Even so, there are moments of pure grandeur, as in the opening pages of the finale to No.9, when one is conscious of the ultimate triumph of a physically weakened 85 year-old man - mind over matter.
The earliest of the recordings in this set, that of No. 7, dates from 1960. It has all the hallmarks of most of Klemperer's Indian summer recordings: a firm grasp of the architectural design, transparency of texture, an absolutely rigid avoidance of anything approaching indulgence and a recording quality that placed the wind far forward. This occasionally leads to unnatural balances: in No. 7 the first flute is often as loud as the first violins. Yet one seeks in vain any of the mystic inwardness that others like Celibidache have found in this symphony. The absolute winner in this set is No. 4, made in 1963, when Klemperer produced more great recordings than at any other time in his career (Schubert 8, Dvorak 9, Tchaikovsky 5 - available with other works of the Romantic period in another EMI boxed set). It is surprisingly fast, but not as swift as the 1954 recording he made with the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra, in which he takes a little over 55 minutes. The whole performance is thought-through with a commanding sense of purpose, with electrifying moments such as the passage seven minutes into the opening movement when Klemperer unleashes the full power of the Philharmonia in peak form. The slow movement has grace and elegance; the scherzo crackles along and the trio oozes rustic charm. The fleet-footed finale knows exactly where it is going. The recording of No. 6, made a year later, is not as well engineered as No. 4, with some clouding of the textures especially in climaxes, but it is still one of the few great recordings of this work in the catalogue.
Those who experienced Klemperer in the concert-hall, as I did, will know that he was capable of moments of unquestionable greatness. He was a giant amongst his contemporaries. However, we will never know with absolute certainty how far his bipolar disorder prevented him from achieving with a greater consistency the insights he occasionally reveals in this set of recordings.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 7 Feb 2013 16:24:29 GMT
Last edited by the author on 7 Feb 2013 22:08:12 GMT
Excellent review.
I do hope you'll consider giving it an extra star.
Three stars might scare away a lot of younger listeners who have no idea of who Klemperer was.

At his best, I found Klemperer to be a force of nature.
Certainly unique.
But he's hard to market in this age when everyone expects technical perfection as a starting point.

At the prices asked, EMI is practically giving these away.
I know this sounds like special pleading, but every music lover should experience Otto Klemperer.

Posted on 5 Aug 2014 12:40:38 BDT
Interesting, but ultimately fatuous in its conclusion. Klemperer, one of the greatest conductors ever, was always bipolar. I have a book on the stocks "The evolving interpretations of Otto Klemperer" because what makes him exceptional amongst a great peer group, for me, is how the combination of age and mood impacted on his performances. Suvi Grubb of EMI, regarded Klemperer's Eroica in Paris in 1968 as the greatest he had ever heard. Also, may I add in - live performance rather than studio recording. One only needs to listen to the Testament Beethoven 9 of 1957, and the EMI recording of the time. Fidelio (1962) of Covent Garden versus the (acclaimed) EMI recording. Klemperer was a conductor for the theatre. I haven't heard the Testament Bruckner 5, but I was at the RFH concert and it was one of the greatest concerts I have ever experienced (and the only time an exhibitionist trait, ever, the trumpets stood up for the final chorale). The recording I found disappointing. But, recordings are counterfeits, and we are so lucky that so many live performances have been unearthed on the internet.

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Aug 2014 10:34:25 BDT
Alexander says:
If you bother to read Peter Heyworth's biography of Klemperer or any of the other biographical information available, you will know that Klemperer was unable to complete recording sessions because of his disorder. Rescheduling was a recurrent problem, which incidentally allowed Charles Mackerras to record other works with the Philharmonia. On other days, as can clearly be heard in some of his recordings, he could clearly direct but not necessarily inspire his orchestra. There is therefore nothing "fatuous" in my conclusion, more in your own comment.

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Jun 2015 21:01:02 BDT
Malx says:
Ian,
If you don't already have this recording it is worth seeking out Beethoven:Symphony No.5,Schubert:Symphony No.8.
Again live recordings this time with an Orchestra Klemperer didn't conduct too often. The fifth in my opinion is a magical experience, as if often the case in his later years the tempos are slow, but oh how it works. The Schubert is also a very fine performance.
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