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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. 72ac (1805) [13:40]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Otto Klemperer
rec. Kingsway Hall, London, 5-6 aOctober, 17 December 1955; b17 November 1954; c18 November 1954


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The question that nags away whenever Klemperer’s Eroica is discussed is whether one favours this 1955 recording or the one made in stereo in 1961. The essence is similar, the same sense of power, the weighty architecture, the care taken over the delineation of the wind choirs – one of Klemperer’s most astute qualities as an orchestral balancer - as well as the sectional balance between the strings. The main differences occur in the second movement – considerably slower in 1961 – and in the finale where opinions certainly differ. Some find the granitic linearity of Klemperer’s conception better realised in the later performance but I’ve always favoured the 1955, where one feels the finale’s spine is better maintained and the sense of tensile control is just that bit more gripping. Certainly one can argue that the 1961 recording incarnates a different kind of tension – an argument that I think is reasonable – but if one has to decide as definitively as one can then the case for the 1955 traversal is the more unarguable.

The brass is on especially fine form, as are the famed winds. The Philharmonia’s bass line is more strongly etched than most British orchestras of the day as well. Those for whom the slow movement moves at a slower tempo will perhaps favour the 1961 reading which lasts around 17 minutes to the 14:40 of this one, a tempo taken at a rather faster clip even than Weingartner’s legendary 1936 Vienna recording, also on Naxos. I find it eloquent and powerful in both Klemperer performances and the establishment of a significantly slower tempo only a few years apart does attest to a certain redefinition of the contours of the movement in its symphonic context. That may be something of an index for those who have yet to hear either recording.

Admirers of the conductor will have the luxury of comparing and contrasting both performances, augmented by such live concert or broadcast material as emerges.

The 1955 Eroica has been out before, incarnated most recently in EMI’s GROC series, in a transfer I’ve not yet heard [5677402 – coupled with the Leonore overtures 1 and 2]. This Naxos offers the overtures Nos 1 and 3 in performances that marry theatrical dynamism with effective dynamic nuance and colour. 

The transfers are unproblematic and attractive. 

Jonathan Woolf  

see also Review by Colin Clarke 



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