So there is something to be learnt after all. As it happens,
while I was listening to these performances I was also making
between Ingrid Haebler’s Denon cycle of Mozart sonatas and
the plagiarized versions attributed to Joyce Hatto. I noticed
that quite often the pirated CD, with its added reverberation,
seemed a little faster. Yet, when the end of the movement
was reached, in most cases the speed proved not to have been
altered. This raised the question whether Haebler herself
might not have played a little slower if she had really been
performing in such a reverberant acoustic – simply to obtain
the same effect.
Here I think we have a case of a conductor doing precisely
that. Kleiber is pursuing exactly the same ideals but also
account such variables as the acoustics and the orchestra.
In order to seem the same, the performance actually has to
be a little different. This is no doubt why Kleiber’s performances
did not become stale. Although they might appear reproductions
of each other, they were actually created anew each time.
Kleiber recorded the “Pastoral” twice – LPO 1948, Concertgebouw 1953.
I don’t know either of these but I discussed
interpretation when reviewing the Kleiber volume in the “Great
Conductors of the 20th
Century” series, which
included a live performance from Prague with the Czech Philharmonic,
given on 20 May 1955.
Though Kleiber’s tempo in the first movement may sound brisk compared
with Furtwängler or Klemperer, what actually impresses is
the relaxed steadiness with which it unfolds. There is no
repeat. The slow movement also unfolds warmly and inevitably.
Kleiber’s insistence on a uniform tempo means that at a couple
of points it seemed to me that he had slowed down. In fact,
he hadn’t and I realize that virtually every other conductor
speeds up at these points, with the result that I expect
it to sound that way. Similarly, I thought he was getting
gradually slower during the trio of the third movement. Again
I realized he wasn’t – I’m just used to hearing conductors
get faster and faster.
The peasants dance vivaciously, the storm is overwhelming,
but the real Kleiber revelation is again the finale. Beethoven’s
metronome marking is scarcely faster than that of the “Scene
by the brook”, and in fact Kleiber treats this as a slow
movement. It comes as all the more a surprise since he allows
no rallentando during the flute’s lead-in. Some other conductors
have attempted this, but they usually move on once they have
made their point. Kleiber has none of that. It’s a wonderfully
serene reading. I did have a few doubts here and there, though.
Is there enough activity in the music to fill such a slow
tempo? Even Klemperer is quicker by almost two minutes. Still,
the score does seem to ask for this, so I think lovers of
Beethoven should hear it and make up their own minds.
Kleiber is very definitely concentrating on musical values here, and
the actual orchestral discipline is less good than in the
Fifth. Quite frankly, there is scarcely a bar which does
not have some sort of imprecision or fluff. Nor are the principal
oboe and clarinet exactly alluring in timbre.
The Czech Philharmonic is clearly a finer band – and the recordings
are about equal. Yet there is a suspicion there that the
first movement is played there with a certain elegant efficiency.
I found that the slow movement began to achieve the magic
of the Cologne version about half-way through. The finale
is a shade faster this time. Perhaps Kleiber felt he had
taken it too slowly in Cologne. I’m not sure I agree. On
the whole, in spite of the lesser orchestra, I think I would
return more often to the Cologne version. Here are the timings: