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COMPOSERS: Klemperer
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2; Merry Waltz
PERFORMER: Rheinland-Pfalz State PO/Alun Francis
CATALOGUE NO: 999 987-2
Otto Klemperer the composer has always been an enigma. How could a conductor so renowned for his sense of firm, monumental, inevitable musical architecture so signally fail to provide anything of the kind in his own works? There appears to be no fit of ideas to structure. Symphony No. 2 begins with a huge Mahlerian tune that promises at least a 20-minute first movement, but is inconsequentially over in four and a half. It hardly matters that so much sounds like reminiscences of Mahler, Bruckner, Pfitzner and Beethoven – time and again ideas that sound promising switch unconvincingly to something else, or vigorous counterpoint peters out in feeble unisons. The two-movement First Symphony feels more cogent, but when its variation-finale climaxes in the Marseillaise we are simply nonplussed. Was Klemperer’s intent satirical? Certainly the Merry Waltz, probably his best-known work, has humour aplenty. The Marcia funebre, for a planned biblical opera, is an effective little piece, while the Recollections and Scherzo were the original middle movements of Symphony No. 2, replaced before the premiere. (The Recollections is almost a quodlibet, from Brahms Third among other sources; the Scherzo seems incapable of getting beyond second gear.) But the impression of insufficiently considered sketches thrown together and then orchestrated with great skill is ultimately a depressing one. Alun Francis directs very good performances indeed – his account of the Second Symphony compares well with Klemperer’s own, issued many years ago by EMI. A curiosity, alas. Calum MacDonald