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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No.1, Op.15 in C major (1800) [38:50]
Piano Concerto No.2, Op.19 in B flat major (1795) [30:30]
Piano Concerto No.3, Op.37 in C minor (1800) [39:46]
Piano Concerto No.4, Op.58 in G major (1805) [37:41]
Piano Concerto No.5, Op.73 Emperor in E flat major (1810) [43:01]
*Choral Fantasia, Op.80 in C minor (1808) [21:06]
Daniel Barenboim (piano)
*John Alldis Choir
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Otto Klemperer
rec. EMI Abbey Road Studios, London, November 1967. ADD
EMI CLASSICS GREAT RECORDINGS OF THE CENTURY 3 61525-2 [3 CDs: 69:25 + 77.28 + 64.13]

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).
Right 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.
Reservations 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 works.
David R Dunsmore


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