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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 3 in E flat, Op. 55, “Eroicaa (1803) [49:18].
Leonore Overtures: No. 1 in C, Op. 138b (1805) [8:34]; No. 3, Op. 72a.c (1805) [13:40]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Otto Klemperer
rec. Kingsway Hall, London, 5-6 aOctober, 17 December 1955; b17 November 1954; c18 November 1954. MONO. ADD
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.111303 [71:33]
Experience Classicsonline


The “Eroica” comes from Columbia 33CX 1346. The presence of the sound carried in the grooves of the LP is well transferred across to compact disc by restoration engineer Mark Obert-Thorn. This is actually almost the same programme as the EMI GROC issue reviewed by Christopher Howell on this site in August 2002; here we have Leonore Overtures 1 and 3; there it was 1 and 2.

The sheer weight of the first movement seems to be a reflection of its own internal, natural force. There is no exposition repeat; it is almost as if it were impossible to go back. Dissonances are relayed for all they are worth, making the famous climax prior to the “E minor” theme all the more awe-inspiring. If the acoustic sounds a bit swimmy for the first horn solo around the 9-10 minute mark, it is generally in fine focus. Detail is lovingly preserved, so that one gets to hear woodwind parts lost in many “more advanced” recent recordings.

The Adagio assai is, as CH suggests, faster than one might expect at first. It is also exquisitely shaded, with the Philharmonia strings rich and sonorous. Fugal work - around seven minutes - is marked by the unstoppability of lava flow. The sound is everywhere, and nowhere more so than in this movement built from the bass upwards. It is as if the sound is both tied to the earth and coming from it. The sheer quality of the playing from all sections of the orchestra is little short of miraculous. The same comment goes for the Scherzo. No nimble-footed sprite, this, more a behemoth on uppers. The horn trio is superbly played - just a pity they sound a little recessed.

The opening to the finale blazes. No mere introduction, this, but a clear statement of intent that casts its shadow over the unfolding variations. And unfold they do, with an inevitability and structural grasp that enable Klemperer to hold to his tempo. In lesser hands this would merely sound pretentiously ponderous. The great horn entry at 8:55 is the only moment I question – it hits you like a punch in the stomach and is so sudden it almost, but not quite, takes away the over-riding grandeur.

Comparing this account of the mighty “Eroica” to the Karajan/Philharmonia is to compare two interpretations both of giant stature. Karajan’s cycle was recorded November 1951-July 1955 in the same hall with the same orchestra – EMI 5 5158632. Perhaps Klemperer wins out. His is the more noble, and in both the EMI and Naxos Historical versions I prefer the sound accorded to Klemperer. But I would not do without the bargain Karajan cycle.

The two Leonore Overtures come from the same Columbia LP (33CX 1270). We hear the rarely played Leonore No. 1. Klemperer was to re-record it with the same orchestra in the same location nine years later. All three of the 1963 Leonore Overtures are available coupled with the Eighth Symphony on EMI’s Klemperer Legacy CDM5 66796 2. Klemperer makes a superb case for No. 1, as he does for the much better-known Third Overture - essentially a symphonic poem, as Colin Anderson points out in his booklet notes - recorded the very next day. The sound-painting of the prison cell at the opening, followed by the clarinet statement of Florestan’s aria (“In des Lebens”) is exquisitely managed, as is the true string pianissimo immediately following. String discipline, too, is miraculous. The “off-stage trumpet” is nicely distanced. Both Leonores have their own theatricality here and reward careful listening.


Colin Clarke




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