Look carefully - these aren't quite the last six symphonies. The lyrical
A major symphony replaces the Linz, and that's no cause
for complaint: it's a fine piece of musical craftsmanship, and
a nice change of pace. That symphony's first movement also offers
a good indication of whether these performances will be for
you. The tempo is distinctly measured - though there's ample
forward motion - and the orchestral sound is big-boned. In the
development, one becomes unusually aware of bass lines when
they're carrying the movement's principal motifs. They're properly
felt as full-fledged counterpoint, rather than playing a merely
supportive role. The other three movements adhere to more conventional
conceptions. The finale, while hardly rushed, is as rollicking
as anyone else's.
That basically sums up the set. Listeners accustomed to hearing the
winds at parity with the strings, in the manner of the early-music
fraternity - or, for that matter, Szell (Sony) - may find the
orchestral sound heavy and string-dominated. But Klemperer takes
care that important material in the winds emerges clearly -
probably via simple dynamic adjustments rather than old-fashioned
doublings. His practice of subordinating sustained wind harmonies
to the strings' busy work seems logical and correct in any case.
Actually, the textures sound richer and more active than in
some "historical" accounts. The aforementioned weighty,
strongly directional bass lines contribute to that impression;
so do the second violins, registering prominently from their
position at the conductor's right, as Klemperer preferred.
It's worth noting that, notwithstanding the prevailing breadth - and
the conductor's reputation! - the tempi as such aren't particularly
slow. Krips (Philips), for example, is certainly no faster in
the opening movements of the Prague and the Haffner.
Klemperer's slow movements sing, for all their rigor - his minuets
are spacious and sure-footed. Throughout the set, one encounters
piano passages that conjure a delicate, magical hush.
And, at his best, the conductor offers distinctive insights.
The G minor's opening movement, sometimes played for a slick
turbulence, here emerges in rueful, elegiac tones; a hint of
monumentality only enhances the grandeur of the Jupiter.
There are a few moments of creaky control, the sort of thing that sometimes
crept into Klemperer performances. Here and there, momentum
flags for no obvious reason - not so surprising in the comparatively
propulsive outer movements, but it also occurs at the repeated
bassoon notes at 7:58 in the E-flat symphony's Andante con
moto, though it didn't happen the previous time around nor,
for that matter, in the immediately preceding phrase! And, in
the first movement of the Haffner, the nervous woodwind
scale at 1:38 doesn't quite dovetail with the next downbeat,
though analogous passages later on are fine. Small, passing
flaws, perhaps, but digital mastering magnifies their presence
somewhat, and they'll bother some people.
I suspect that the mixing board has contributed some instrumental spotlighting:
even within a forward sonic frame, some of the woodwind soli
seem inordinately front-and-center. Otherwise, everything sounds
good enough, though a touch of graininess betrays the recordings'
This collection is a worthwhile, even necessary counterweight to the
lighter, chamber-scaled performances more recently in favor.
To return to the A major - among my favorite Mozart, in case
you'd not guessed - if you supplement Klemperer's recording
with Britten's (in a "Double Decca" bargain set) or
Kertész's (also Decca, possibly in digital limbo), you'll be
pretty much set.
Stephen Francis Vasta