The great Erich Kleiber should need little if no introduction.
His early death at 66 deprived the world of a great artist and fine
conductor, whose career, like so many, was stymied by the Nazis. His
attitude to recording was somewhat ambivalent. Rather like Celibidache
a generation later, he worried about the rigidity of the medium, that
fixing an interpretation in a moment in time was not what music-making
was all about, yet on the other hand as an historical document, recording
was invaluable, especially when those on the rostrum were composers
conducting their own works like Strauss or Stravinsky, or singers like
Caruso who could teach a generation of followers his art of vocal technique.
It was not easy to record orchestras in the 1920s, with a handful of
strings (all that could be crammed onstage) plus all other instrumental
families required facing a large recording horn, and many attempts had
to be made before a single disc could be satisfactorily produced. Despite
his reluctance he worked for several record companies such as Vox, DGG,
Odeon, HMV, Ultraphon and its corporate successor Telefunken, the last
named pair responsible for recording the works transferred to this superbly
remastered CD by Bryan Crimp.
The works chosen make a varied menu, from the evergreen
Serenade ‘Eine kleine Nachtmusik’ by Mozart and the Unfinished
Symphony of Schubert to lesser known pieces like the Overture to Preciosa
by Weber and a Tarantella by Liszt, which is an arrangement of the third
of his Années de pèlerinage for piano. The Danse
macabre was the first work he ever recorded for Ultraphon (9 April
1930), whereas Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony was the final recording
session (28 January 1935) as well as a farewell to the city (he had
already conducted his final public concert there three weeks earlier).
He was an uncompromising artist but his Mozart is tenderly paced and
stylishly phrased, the Minuet full of stately grace if threatening to
plod (the Trio sweetly sung by the first violins), and magically taut
ensemble in the Finale. Preciosa, Light Cavalry,
the Danse macabre, and the hectic Tarantella are given
colourful performances if, in the case of the Weber, from slightly afar.
Kleiber’s view of Schubert’s symphony is cast in the solid interpretative
mould of those twentieth century German conductors of stature we now
respect and who have probably disappeared with the recent death of Günter
Wand. Best of all is Strauss’s tone poem, full of mischief and capricious
fun with all the members of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in character
and on top form.