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Erich KLEIBER (1890-1956)
Serenade: Eine kleine Nachtmusik K.525 MOZART
Overture: Preciosa WEBER
Symphony No.8 in B minor ‘Unfinished’ SCHUBERT
Tarantella LISZT
Danse macabre SAINT-SAËNS
Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche STRAUSS
Overture: Light Cavalry SUPPÉ
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Berlin State Opera Orchestra
Erich Kleiber (conductor)
Recorded at the Singakademie or Studio Wilhelmsaue, Berlin between 1930 and 1935
TELDEC: TELEFUNKEN LEGACY SERIES 0927 42664 2 [77.43]

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that fixing an interpretation in a moment in time was not what music-making was all about, yet on the other hand as an historical document, recording was invaluable, especially when those on the rostrum were composers conducting their own works like Strauss or Stravinsky, or singers like Caruso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.

Christopher Fifield


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