Haydn, Tchaikovsky, Wagner, Mahler, Strauss, Brahms, etc

COMPOSERS: Brahms,etc,Haydn,Mahler,Strauss,Tchaikovsky,Wagner
LABELS: EMI
ALBUM TITLE: The Klemperer Legacy
WORKS: Works by Haydn, Tchaikovsky, Wagner, Mahler, Strauss, Brahms,
PERFORMER: Soloists; Philharmonia Chorus & Orchestra, New Philharmonia Orchestra/Otto Klemperer
CATALOGUE NO: ADD Reissue (11 discs Ð see text for catalogue numbers)
Otto Klemperer’s best conducting unleashes primal energy, prefers primary colours to subtle half-tints, and achieves uncommonly clear textures and articulations. This distinctive approach rouses astonishing loyalty, and there are few works on which it fails to cast new and insightful perspectives. Nevertheless, this installment in EMI’s handsomely remastered The Klemperer Legacy includes a number of works that do not automatically respond to such treatment.

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Before putting down their money, prospective buyers should be advised to sample Klemperer’s Tchaikovsky Fifth (CDM 5 67032 2), in which customary Romantic sweep is replaced by gritty rhythmic pointing; his Dvorak ‘New World’ symphony (CDM 5 67033 2), characterful but short on atmosphere and flow; and his Berlioz Symphonie fantastique (CDM 5 67034 2), a hard-hitting romp that leaves unexplored this work’s boundaries of rapt introspection and febrile derangement. Even in his incisively cogent 1956-57 accounts of the Brahms symphonies, I wish for a greater sense of culmination in the closing stages of the First (CDM 5 67029 2) and just a hint of irresolution at the launching of the magical recapitulation in the first movement of the Fourth (CDM 5 67031 2).

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Such unrealised possibilities are a byproduct of Klemperer’s preoccupation with limiting tempo inflections. He turns this trait to structural advantage in Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony (CDM 5 67037 2) and Strauss’s Metamorphosen (CDM 5 67036 2, 2 discs), and uses it to attain eloquence in the middle movements of Mendelssohn’s ‘Italian’ Symphony (CDM 5 67038 2). But through this approach Klemperer also resists engagement with the jumble of expressive demands in Mahler’s Ninth (with Metamorphosen), where he blithely sacrifices contrasts between sections in the ‘Rondo-Burleske’—and between phrases in the protean first movement—on the altar of smooth tempo relationships. Such lapses seem especially unnecessary in light of his loving, flexible account of Mahler’s Fourth (CDM 5 67035 2). Coupled with Christa Ludwig’s fervent intoning of five Mahler songs, this strikes me as the most treasurable disc in this installment, but the Brahms, Mendelssohn, and Bruckner discs also merit perpetual availability and admiration.