Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 1 in C major Op. 21 [27:40]
Symphony No. 3 in E flat major Eroica Op. 55 [49:19]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Otto Klemperer
rec. live, Vienna, 29 May (No. 3), 7 June (No. 1) 1960
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 2 in D major Op. 36 [46:01]
Symphony No. 5 in C minor Op. 67 [35:32]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Otto Klemperer
rec. live, Vienna, 29 May (No 2), 31 May (No. 5) 1960
It is best to start with the downside of these discs. The actual recording, presumably taken from radio tapes and digitally re-mastered by Danielo Prefumo, is no more than adequate even compared with other live recordings from this period. However no one is likely to buy these discs for the quality of sound, and it is certainly never less than adequate and does not get in the way of enjoyment or understanding of the performances. One oddity is that the woodwind seem to be balanced closer than the brass. In the first movement of the Fifth for example the famous moment where the bassoons are given the solo passage earlier given to the horns is by no means the problem that it is in some performances, where the bassoons tend to sound puny. The bassoons here are at least as loud as the horns if not louder. There are some occasional minor slips from the orchestra, mainly of ensemble, but nothing worth bothering about. There is understandably enthusiastic applause at the end of each work, easy to omit, and the presentation of the discs is meagre - little more than a list of movements. In a very crowded market these might all be good reasons to ignore these discs, and under these circumstances the performances have to be very good indeed to tempt the purchaser.
They are, and I can start with complete confidence that I have never heard an Eroica which manages to be both exciting and understanding of the structure and content of the work as this is. The two studio recordings that Klemperer made with the Philharmonia before and after this performance are both very much worth hearing, especially the earlier one, but they do not have quite the sense of excitement and recreation that is found here. Two key factors are the conductor’s care over the distinction between forte and fortissimo and over balance and phrasing. In addition whilst it would be wrong to describe these performances as free in rhythm they are much more so than are most of Klemperer’s studio recordings. I do not know whether the gaps between movements represent what they were at the concerts, but they seem natural and wholly appropriate. A minor matter, perhaps, but the very short gap here between the third and fourth movements of the Eroica for example does add greatly to the coherence of the work. I regret the lack of the first movement repeat in this work - they are taken in all of the others - but overall this is a performance which reveals to a remarkable degree Beethoven’s astonishing imaginative logic. The listener, or at least this one, is kept on the edge of his seat wondering what Beethoven will do next, even if he or she knows the work backwards. I do not for one moment dispute the value of more recent recordings, especially those which are better historically informed, use period instruments or are better recorded, but I regard this as being a performance of very special strength and understanding.
The other symphonies are also worth hearing, if not all to the same degree. The Second is the best (it was also recorded on 29 May 1960), bringing out every facet of this curiously relatively undervalued work. The Fifth is exciting but cogent. Like all the performances here there is a real sense of forward motion and logical progression. The First is perhaps the least interesting as a performance with little advance on the much better recorded studio versions. Even so the first chords are placed to such perfection that it too is well worth hearing. I understand that these recordings have been available in other transfers before although I have not heard them in those versions. On their own merits, however, I have no doubt that these discs are an essential adjunct to more recent and better recorded versions, and I look forward with great eagerness to the remaining volumes in the series.
John Sheppard 

These discs are an essential adjunct to more recent and better recorded versions, and I look forward with great eagerness to the remaining volumes in the series.