I first came across these recordings in the
mid-1990s when they were released on CD in EMI’s Studio series.
Richard Osborne, who provides the notes here, had written an
enthusiastic review in “The Gramophone” and encouraged my purchase.
I’d also come upon the original review by Edward Greenfield
in 1969, which was generally positive. The combination of the
young Barenboim, newly married and fresh from his Beethoven
sonata cycle (HMV) united with the craggy old master Klemperer
is an interesting concept. I played the discs with interest
but have to confess that latterly I’ve tended to play the Choral
Fantasia and ignored the concertos. I was therefore very
interested to hear them again, newly minted and given the GROC
treatment. Incidentally they can still be purchased along with
Klemperer’s Symphonies in a 9 CD slim line box. (EMI 73895).
from the first bars the listener is aware that they’re in
for a special treat. We are miles away from the authentic
Ludwig. This is big-boned Beethoven with a vengeance. I loved
the First concerto, which I got to know the year this set
first appeared from the young pianist Terence Judd, who died
tragically ten years later. Here Klemperer’s slow speeds
seem to complement the enthusiasm of Barenboim, who would
surely have loved to perform these works under his idol Furtwängler.
The Second, actually written first is also very fine so long
as you can cope with the tempi. The Third too, whilst being
a monumental performance, expressed the differing emotions
from the mid-thirties composer and despite some eccentricities
is a great listen. The magical “floating” moment towards
the end of the first movement worked particularly well. The
feeling of a huge orchestra adds to the pleasure in the Fourth
concerto and one can only admire Barenboim’s skill and dexterity.
I think that this is probably the standout from the whole
set, apart from the Choral Fantasia. The wonderful
New Philarmonia is also in fine form here.
on this combination come to the fore in the Emperor where
I found the general stateliness and certain idiosyncrasies
emanating from Klemperer detracted from what could have been
a great performance. I think I’ll go back to favourites such
as Arrau, Kempff, Perahia and the splendid Pierre-Laurent
Aimard whose set is now re-released in a bumper 15 CD set
of Beethoven under Nikolaus Harnoncourt for around £30! The
set ends with the marvellous Choral Fantasia which
despite its occasional stateliness receives a life-enhancing
rendition; quite my favourite although I haven’t heard Curzon’s
BBC version yet!
All in all this
set is a Great Recording but definitely not for everyday. These
versions require a certain tolerance at times. However when
they are good - the splendid Fourth is playing as I write -
they are very good. The sound is excellent as is the presentation.
If you are tempted by an unusual combination you will find
this a fascinating set presenting these constantly rewarding
David R Dunsmore
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