Brahms, Schubert, Wagner

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Brahms,Schubert,Wagner
WORKS: Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 8 (Unfinished); Tristan und Isolde: Act III (excerpt)
PERFORMER: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Wolfgang Hellmich, Brigitte Fassbaender, Werner Götz, Kurt Moll, Margaret Price; Vienna PO, Dresden Staatskapelle/ Carlos Kleiber
CATALOGUE NO: 477 5324
The late Carlos Kleiber famously hated recording, and according to Herbert von Karajan he only agreed to conduct at all ‘when his freezer was empty’. But his tiny legacy of recorded performances is one of the central gems of the DG catalogue. Listening to his Schubert, Brahms and Wagner on this swiftly produced commemorative disc you should get a good idea why. The musical strengths are easy to list. Each work – or, in the case of Tristan, complete scene – is a living whole. Complex, richly variegated musical arguments emerge like single, soaring spans of melody. At the same time there is Kleiber’s refined feeling for detail. As with Otto Klemperer at his finest, the rise and fall of the phrases, the expressive nuances can be so subtle they’re hardly there, and yet it all tells. The exquisite clarinet melody in the slow movement of the Unfinished Symphony is just one of many examples of this ‘unique artistry’ – for once the blurb on the CD cover gets it exactly right. But there’s another quality, much harder to explain: a kind of hypnotic magic in the very sound, evident as much in the whispered opening of the Unfinished as in the forward surging drama of the finale of Brahms’s Fourth. As for the Wagner, there’s a strong case for regarding Margaret Price’s Isolde as the most beautiful on record, and it can’t be coincidental that she created it for Kleiber. One senses his artistic presence as much as Price’s in the passionate swelling crescendos of the ‘Liebestod’, yet the last thing you could accuse him of is attention seeking. If you haven’t yet discovered Kleiber, don’t hesitate. Stephen Johnson