Erich Kleiber left for Montevideo in June 1939. Heíd
resigned his position at the Berlin Staatsoper in 1934, refusing all
entreaties to return, and began a peripatetic life which eventually
led him to South America. One of the more interesting stops was the
Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with Mischa Elman in Havana Ė and a number
of his Buenos Aires performances have in fact survived in the archives.
After the War he remained to complete his concert engagements in South
America before moving north to conduct the NBC Symphony, performances
presented in this Tahra tenth anniversary edition.
Of the great conductors active in Berlin in its Weimar
glory Kleiber was the one least captured in the recording studios. The
rupture of the 1930s and his wandering career in South America have
equally served to emphasise the somewhat shapeless and haphazard nature
of his discography Ė an idiosyncratic one that has been fortunately
swelled by extant broadcast performances. Hartmannís Sixth Symphony
for example survives in two versions, from Berlin and Munich, both from
1955 as does a work as unlikely as Novakís South Bohemian Suite (Prague
1956) Ė though it should never be forgotten that Kleiber had lived in
Prague as a child. He was also a staunch proponent
and supporter of contemporary composers and in addition to Hartmann,
performances of Bittner, Schoenberg, JanŠček, Busoni and Korngold
have survived. He first recorded for Vox in 1923, switching to Polydor
in 1926. Heíd clocked up a hardly negligible series of discs
to his credit by the time he was forced to leave Germany.
Tahraís tenth anniversary series of vignette single
discs devoted to the works of individual conductors aptly turns its
focus on Kleiber and his post-War NBC performances of 1946 and 1948.
Berenice, complete with piano continuo I think, opens in very grand
fashion. The NBC strings are burnished with massive, staunch basses
all to the fore in Kleiberís epic conception. He is not afraid to indulge
some truly intense diminuendi either. The Schubert comes from the same
concert. Kleiber gives a real fillip to the strings in the opening movement.
The woodwind have a very individual tonality to their sound. The principal
clarinet has a rather blanched tone and the oboe a centralized, unluxuriant
one, all of which imparts a rather cool and aloof patina to their contributions.
The sound is a trifle congested and tends to emphasise the loose ends
in the playing, of which there are a number. But at Kleiberís wittily
inflected tempo, over pizzicato accompaniment, the Allegretto comes
over as droll and the succeeding Minuet a delicious feature for oboe
and bassoon amongst other felicities. The finale is expertly fleet and
exciting. The Tchaikovsky comes from a concert on 3rd January
1948. The composer was hardly an interest of Toscaniniís but Kleiber
certainly didnít share the Italianís indifference or hostility and nor
did Toscaniniís despised sometime co-conductor of the NBC, Leopold Stokowski.
Thereís excitement in Kleiberís Fourth but also plenty of orchestral
clarity. He gives the folk-inflected passage for clarinet and flute
from 5í02 a certain deadpan elegance. He can be stern yet yielding when
necessary. Some mushiness intrudes on the acetates in this movement
however, especially on string forte passages from 14í30 onwards and
there are moments of negligible, but audible, radio interference. The
close of the movement brings an impressed burst of applause. Scuffs
and acetate chugs attend the second movement. I admired the linearity
of Kleiberís conducting here and the intensely emphatic string moulding,
especially the passage from 1í29 to 1í32 and its analogue in the wind
choir. Indeed the fluency and strength of the Scherzo and Finale are
testament to Kleiberís dynamism and orchestral mastery. Thereís nothing
over lingering about his interpretation; it obeys the proprieties with
Imperfections aside, and they wonít really concern
any but the most fastidious, Kleiberís discography is one of the more
precious souvenirs of a generation of conductors whose lives were punctured
by politics and War.