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Recordings of the Month


From Ocean’s Floor


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Symphonies 1, 2, 3

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No.7 in A, op.92 (1811-12) [41:30]
Symphony No 8 in F, op.93 (1812) [27:51]
Symphony No 9 in D minor, op.125 Choral (1823-24) [72:13]
Aase Nordmo-Lovberg (soprano), Christa Ludwig (mezzo), Waldemar Kmentt (tenor), Hans Hotter (baritone)
Philharmonia Chorus/Wilhelm Pitz
Philharmonia Orchestra/Otto Klemperer
rec. 29 October, 19 November, 3 December 1960 (7), 29, 30 October 1957 (8), 31 October, 21-23 November 1957 (9), Kingsway Hall. London
PRISTINE AUDIO PASC371 [69:21 + 72:13]

This is the third volume of the re-mastered “stereo set” of Klemperer’s Beethoven symphonies. Unlike the budget EMI Classics set (10 CDs - 4 04275 2) which nevertheless is a great bargain, these transfers come from pristine LPs. The sound, as I discussed when reviewing Volume 2 is notable for its superior bass. It sounds like top rate vinyl, which many older collectors may prefer. Unlike the Mahler set where EMI have re-mastered and, in the case of the Resurrection restored the correct length, the EMI re-mastering is from the 1990s. This is a missed opportunity although not all recent re-masters are an improvement. 

The stereo Seventh has, like the Eroica and the Fifth been generally, unfavourably compared to the mono recordings of 1955. The mono Seventh was last released separately (it is also in the 10 CD set, referred to above) and my colleague Christopher Howell had reservations. The first time I heard the 1955 CD in its stereo version (recorded in secret, along with the mono) in 1988 I was impressed but have since found it too slow. The first movement compares very unfavourably with Beecham on EMI and others. Five years later, the first movement is much slower than the norm but is powerful in its own way. The sound of the orchestra is excellent. One key point from Klemperer was that like many conductors of the old school (not Stokowski) was that he divided first and second violins. This gives an antiphonal effect that is vital in these works. The slow movement makes a terrific impact, one of the strongest I’ve heard. This power and conviction continues during the Presto and the finale although I did find the latter rather lumbering. I recalled Beecham’s comment about yaks dancing, these yaks seem fairly geriatric.
The sound of the orchestra is excellent and how well the Philharmonia play. I enjoyed this recording much more than I expected; on its own terms it’s quite a performance. In addition to the two EMI studio recordings there are at least four live recordings for those who cannot get enough of this work under Klemperer; for those enthusiasts may I direct you to the Naxos Music Library.
The Eighth is a fine “heavy-weight” recording, made concurrently with the RFH concerts. It certainly shows this work is not a little symphony. Many of the points I have made referring the Seventh apply here to a work which Klemperer clearly does not see as a throwback to the first two symphonies. Whilst there is some humour here, the performance does not have the joy others, such as Beecham, have brought to this lovely work. The wind playing, particularly during the Minuet is delightful and comes over very well in this re-mastering. All in all, well worth hearing if by no means the only version to have.
When we come to the Ninth we are dealing with one of the first stereo recordings of the Choral Symphony. It garnered excellent reviews on its release in 1959 and has always been held in high regard as has the live recording, made by the same forces on Testamenta week earlier. 

I had not heard this performance for a very long time but was very impressed right from the start. Klemperer really understands the first movement in a way few others do, taking us through every part with clear detail and purpose. The second movement “Scherzo” has been criticized for its steady tempo but it is very evolving and engaging and credit must be given to the Philharmonia and the producer Walter Legge. A few nights ago we listened to the BBC Proms and Valery Petrenko conducting the work where this movement in particular felt too hard-driven. The third movement “adagio” is simply superb with everything in place; the pace just right. Again we hear wonderful wind and string playing. I thought there was too big a pause between the end of the “adagio” and the “finale” but when we’re into the “presto” all is good again and the playing is just superb. There was some criticism, at the time, of Hans Hotter’s singing but to my ears the soloists and chorus are first rate. It’s a tribute to Walter Legge and the engineers as well as to Pristine that the sound totally belies its 55 years. There is a real sense of the special occasion, which I find very moving. There were comments, on its original release, of the virtues of stereo and this is reinforced in the final part. This is a Ninth that certainly deserves to be heard and enjoyed.
These three recordings, despite a few reservations, are of the highest order and ones I will return to with great pleasure, especially the Choral. Allow me, however, to look elsewhere for more spirited yaks in the Seventh.
David R Dunsmore