Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Klemperer - The Beethoven Symphonies: Volume 2
Symphony No.4 in B flat, op.60 (1806) [36:13]
Symphony No.5 in C minor, op.67 (1807-8) [39:59]
Symphony No.6 in F, op.68 Pastoral (1808) [46:22]
Grosse Fuge, op.133 (1825) [18:34]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Otto Klemperer
rec. 21-22 October 1957 (4), 22-24 October 1959 (5), 28-29 October 1957 (6), 26-27 March 1956 (GF), Kingsway Hall (4, 6), Abbey Road Studio One (5, GF)
PRISTINE AUDIO PASC369 [76:12 + 64:56]
These recordings have hardly been out of the catalogue since they were recorded in the late 1950s. They were laid down at the same time as a series of concerts at the Royal Festival Hall. My cousin, who is older than me, attended these and still talks about them in awe. My first memories of Klemperer’s Beethoven were his performances in the early 1970s, shown on the BBC. These seemed very slow and ponderous but the recorded cycle dates from fifteen years earlier and I enjoyed them, particularly the Pastoral, in the late 1980s. However, it’s been some time since I’ve heard them. EMI Classics, for whom Klemperer recorded, have re-released the entire Symphonies and Overtures, including the mono recordings of 3, 5 and 7 in a budget box of 10 CDs. That’s on EMI 4 04275 2 but typically, these recordings have not re-mastered: the mastering comes from the 1990s, apart from the Pastoral, which was re-mastered in 2003 as a GROC. My colleague Christopher Howell described that disc as follows: “The recordings still sound very fine; this is Beethoven you must have. As long as you don’t have only this Beethoven”. Having reacquainted myself with these middle symphonies in the present splendid transfers, taken from LPs, I can only concur.
The Fourth is a classic recording and been highly commended since its release. The Philharmonia were, based on studio and live recordings, the finest orchestra in the world at the time, and the playing throughout is top class. The detail of the instruments comes through and it helps that Klemperer, like many of the “Old School” divides his first and second violins, left and right to get the antiphonal sound that Beethoven wanted. The first movement goes at a fair rate and the second movement is sublime. The horn player at the end of the movement is Alan Civil who replaced the great Dennis Brain, who had tragically been killed two months earlier. The wit of the third movement is well conveyed and comes over as if at a live concert. Great sound too in the finale: granite-like comes to mind. This all serves to confirm this as one of the great Fourth, along with Walter (Sony), Karajan 1962 (DG) and Norrington (EMI).
The stereo Fifth has sometimes been unfavourably compared with the mono version, recorded in 1955. However, on its own terms it’s a fine performance. Klemperer recorded the symphony three times in less than ten years; the earliest being with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra (Vox) which I haven’t heard for a long time but is craggy, just like the other two.
The Pastoral is quite simply one of the finest versions ever set down. It’s up there with Toscanini, BBC 1936, Walter, Boult and Stokowski. Right from the start there is rhythm and forward momentum. I compared the Pristine with the EMI Classics. In the first movement; whilst there is more bass in the former I found the sound slightly clearer in the EMI, though both are very good. The original recording was first class, produced by the unique Walter Legge (Mr Elizabeth Schwarzkopf). I suspect those who grew up with the LP will prefer the Pristine version. The first two movements are relatively uncontroversial and delightfully convey the joy of this piece; especially the splendid wind playing. The third movement, “Peasants’ merrymaking” has been the subject of folklore since Legge complained of the slow speed. Klemperer retorted “You’ll get used to it, Walter!” Well I have always got used to it, seeing Klemperer’s vision of old men dancing, possibly having over-imbibed! The storm is very powerful and the final movement is intensely moving and beautifully played. A Pastoral for special occasions like Eeyore’s birthday.
Finally we have the orchestration by Felix Weingartner of the Grosse Fuge, which I have on a budget EMI reissue. I can only endorse Christopher Howell’s recommendation. If you want to hear this work - wrongly titled according to Hans Keller - by an orchestra, rather than by a string quartet, then this is one to go seek out. The sound, from 1956 is admirable - like that achieved for all the recordings here.
Whilst for many people the EMI set is to be preferred the Pristine set is excellent and may well also suit those who want only these works. Listening to these wonderful performances and reviewing them has been a real privilege.
David R Dunsmore
Excellent transfers of treasured performances … deserving a place in the collection of all Beethoven lovers.
Masterwork Index: Symphony 4 ~~ Symphony 5 ~~ Symphony 6