LABELS: RSO EMI
WORKS: Works by Beethoven, Wagner, Strauss, Mahler
PERFORMER: Philharmonia Orchestra, Bavarian
CATALOGUE NO: (14 separate discs; see text for catalogue numbers of recommendations)
Otto Klemperer’s artistry allied a distinctive sonority – lean but weighty – with insistently, powerfully dignified readings. Legendary Beethoven and Wagner recordings with the Philharmonia Orchestra occupy the first eight discs of EMI’s Klemperer Legacy (the Beethoven cycle in this manifestation includes the 1959 recordings of the Third and Fifth symphonies, but the 1955 version of the Seventh); they continue to provide an essential perspective on these works. T
he remaining discs are either newly released performances or others that have been less frequently reissued. It is good to welcome this account of Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel (CDM 5 66823 2) back to the catalogue, for instance – although less nimble than many performances, it is mordantly witty. If Klemperer sometimes projects poise rather than sensuality in Don Juan and Salome’s Dance, his Tod und Verklärung is awesomely intense. The sheer vigour of the playing Klemperer could elicit is in full evidence on the Franck and Schumann disc (CDM 5 66824 2), even if the playing in the former’s D minor symphony overwhelms any hint of billowy elegance. Klemperer’s admirers will be especially intrigued by EMI’s first release of live performances from the Sixties with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (with no applause from the audience).
Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony (CDM 5 66865 2) finds conductor and orchestra at loggerheads – phrase after phrase starts out in a (moderate) tempo that Klemperer firmly reins in. But the remaining performances are more successful, despite occasional uncertainties of ensemble – Beethoven’s Fifth (coupled with No. 4) proves to be an epic journey of discovery, Schubert’s Unfinished (CDM 5 66868 2) is among the most singing, lyrical Klemperer performances I have encountered, and the BRSO regales the finale of Mahler’s Second (CDM 566867 2) with some ferociously searing playing.
In Mendelssohn’s Third (CDM 5 66868 2), Klemperer offers his own elaboration of the second subject of the finale as a substitute for the A major coda which caused Mendelssohn misgivings. Mystery and grandeur elude Bruckner’s Fourth (CDM 5 66866 2) when rendered with such point and efficiency, but the playing is potent. In short, all these performances provide valuable insights into both Klemperer’s interpretative persona and the music he performs.