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Music in the Weimar Republic – Berlin 1929
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)

The Hebrides Overture
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Bruno Walter, recorded c.1923
Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)

Symphony No. 8 in C minor – Adagio
Orchestra of the Staatsoper Berlin/Otto Klemperer, recorded 1924
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Prelude and Fugue in E flat major BWV 552 – orch. Schoenberg
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Erich Kleiber, recorded 1930
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)

Lohengrin – Prelude to Act I
Lucerne Festival Orchestra/Wilhelm Furtwängler, recorded 1947
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

La Traviata - Preludes to Acts I and II
Orchestra of La Scala Milan/Arturo Toscanini, recorded 1951
SYMPOSIUM 1340 [68.30]


AVAILABILITY

www.symposiumrecords.co.uk

The pretext for this disc is the famous photograph reproduced on the cover of Symposium’s booklet. There stand Bruno Walter, Arturo Toscanini and Erich Kleiber, smiling with varying degrees of sincerity and amusement, and to their left towering over them like giants are the duo of Otto Klemperer (grim of visage) and Wilhelm Furtwängler (cold stare). Has the camera, before or since, captured their like? They were all active in Berlin in 1929 and this disc reflects that to a degree inasmuch as the Walter, Kleiber and Klemperer items were all recorded in the city though the recording dates range from the late acoustics of Walter and Klemperer to the 1951 Toscanini-Verdi.

Walter’s acoustic Hebrides sounds to have some beefy bass reinforcement. Additionally the string entry points are rather indistinct and the reduced complement of strings, as well as their portamenti and uniform vibrato, gives an occasionally queasy sound to the proceedings. As Symposium’s note explains there’s a difficult side join through a held note – but they’ve accomplished it securely and well. I doubt you’d recognise the orchestra as the Berlin Philharmonic, even in these circumstances. The other late acoustic is Klemperer’s recording of the Adagio of Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony, this time with the orchestra of the Staatsoper. Again and more damagingly we find undermanned forces and again some doubling. Upper frequencies suffer most and the strings playing even half way up the fingerboard sound particularly starved. Accidents happen along the way, inevitably, and examples of poor chording, untidiness and false entries are there. Still this is one of the major orchestral documents of its time, however imperfect, and if the result sounds disjunctive – as it does to me – it is a real rarity and deserves to be in the catalogue as an example of Klemperer the embryonic Brucknerian. Symposium dates it as 1923/24 but according to Claude Graveley Arnold’s ‘The Orchestra on Record 1896-1926’ it was recorded in December of the latter year.

From acoustic Bruckner to the outrageous Bach-Schoenberg is covering some ground, especially when the 1930 sound is so radically improved. The Prelude and Fugue must clearly have presented some problems because three separate recording dates are given, from April, May and September 1930 but the results are gloriously infectious. From the flare and blare of trumpet and trombone to the juicily full-toned clarinet Kleiber whips up a storm of colour and zest. In the Fugue the nasal winds impart a festive splendour and a ceremonial drama; the final peroration is irresistible. Furtwängler’s Lucerne recording of the Lohengrin enshrines powerful nobility albeit there’s a bit of wear on one side and we end with his nemesis, Toscanini, in the latter’s 1951 La Traviata Preludes. The Act II Prelude is particularly compelling with its deeply expressive string phrasing and subtle portamenti.

Copies used are generally good; a degree of surface noise has been retained, Symposium preferring to retain higher frequencies and not use too much noise suppression.

Jonathan Woolf

 



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