Fresh light on a much-recorded maestro
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 11/25/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Otto Klemperer was a taciturn manic-depressive giant (6 ft. 6 in.) who lived from the age of Mahelr to the age when men landed on the moon. He had such self-destructive tendencies that after WW II he could have been totally forgotten; one mishap after another plauged him, including almost burning himself up by smoking in bed. But Klemperer was incredibly fortunate in one regard. EMI picked him up in the early Fifties as the anointed successor to Karajan, who was about to flee to Berlin after a long association with the Philharmonia Orch. in London.
At his first few London concerts Klemperer proved a hit, and until he died twenty years later in 1973 he was almost constantly in the studio making one classic recording after another. In this 2-CD set, EMI has wisely turned its back on Klemperer's extensive catalog and concentrated on live performances instead. These are so good that they shed new light on one of the greatest maestros in the postwar era.
CD 1 begins with a lovely, poised Mozart Sym. 38 with the RIAS Berlin orchestra (1950) in good but slightly muffled boradcast mono. It's not just another performance from a Mozart specialist but one of the most masterful you're ever likely to hear from a live concert. Next comes an equally good-sounding Till Eulenspiegel from Cologne (1956), where the provincial quality of the ensemble can't be ignored; still, the performance is steady and solid, with plenty of bite. It's also slow at 14 min., typical of Klemperer's late style.
In his younger days Klemperer was a noted modernist. He dropped that in old age, recording barely a note of Stravinsky and no Bartok or Second Viennese School. The modern music we get here consists, first, of a Stravinsky Pulcinella Suite (1957) with the Bavarian State Radio Orch. Klemperer's deliberate tempos are nothing like any other Stravinsky you've ever heard, but the reading isn't sluggish at all--it's delicate and eerily wonderful. CD 1 ends by harking back to 1931 with a Threepenny Opera suite from Berlin. It's a bit lumpish and dim but more than worthy as nostaliga for the Weimar era.
CD 2 is off to a wonderful start with a lively Mozart "Little G minor" Sym 25 from the same run of 1950 oncerts with the RIAS Berlin that gave us the Prague Sym. on CD 1. It couldn't be better, confirming Klemperer as a supreme Mozartean. From 1958, again with the RIAS, there's Beethoven's Sym. #2. The mono sound is fuller than anything to come before, and the peformance is alert and classical--not a great change from Klemperer's version on disc but a shade lighter in live performance.
So far, Klemperer in his typical role as a granitic monolith hasn't emerged, and he still doesn't on the last work, Janacek's Sinfonietta from Cologne (1956). It's a dud, unfortunately, lumbering along in boxy sound--too bad after the great music making on the rest of the set.
Congratulations to the compilers for enitrely avoiding Klemperer's much reissued London recordings and sticking with unrelased material. They've done collectors a favor while showing off a great musician at his best. This set is one of the top five in the whole series.