> Erich Kleiber TAH450 [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Erich Kleiber
Piotr I TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Symphony No 4
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Symphony No 3
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)

Berenice, Overture
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Erich Kleiber
Recorded March 1946 (Handel, Schubert), January 1948 (Tchaikovsky)
TAHRA TAH 450 [68í13]

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 expressive tautness.

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.

Jonathan Woolf


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