The reclusive Carlos Kleiber – voted the most inspiring conductor of all time in a poll of eminent current practitioners in BBC Music’s April 2011 issue – was a rare visitor to the recording studio. But his LP of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony with the Vienna Philharmonic, issued in 1975, was recognised as a classic.
The same team’s Seventh Symphony, which followed the next year, was of similar distinction. And the pairing of Kleiber’s interpretations of these two masterpieces on one recording has become an essential recommendation for any collection. These are performances which seem to present a Beethoven ‘for the ages’, a distillation of a long interpretative tradition, without concern for historical accuracy in text or performance practice.
The sense of something monumental is enhanced by the imposing Vienna Musikverein acoustic. But that doesn’t blur Kleiber’s superfine attention to detail, with perfectly balanced textures and subtly graded transitions, clearly obtained through lengthy and painstaking rehearsal. And the 1970s Vienna Phiharmonic was a band capable of an equally detailed response.
What Kleiber also succeeded in communicating to the players, though, is what conductor Susanna Mälkki describes as his ‘incredible energy’. The Fifth Symphony moves in an unerring line from its famous opening, crackling with excitement, to its celebratory ending. And the Seventh, with all its repeated rhythmic units, generates so much momentum that the thrilling acceleration Kleiber whips up in the final bars almost seems the only possible outcome.