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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV1068 [23:14]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 29 in A major, K201 [23:47]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 1 in C major Op.21 [26:58]
Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester/Otto Klemperer
rc. 8 (Mozart), 11 (Beethoven) February 1954; 17 October 1955 (Bach); Saal 1, Funkhaus, Cologne. MONO ADD
ICA CLASSICS ICAC 5120 [74:20]

These recordings were made just around the time when, after his itinerant years of guest conducting, Klemperer was chosen by Walter Legge to begin a famous series of recordings for EMI with the newly formed Philharmonia Orchestra. Seventy years old and already in dubious health following his fall while disembarking from a plane in 1951, Klemperer was in the process of clawing his way back to being able to conduct standing up and to the top of his profession (before another set-back when he set fire to himself in bed in 1958).
 
One of the orchestras with which he had previously been frequently working was the Kölner Rundfunk and for a while he continued to conduct them. This disc presents three radio broadcasts from the mid-1950s, in good mono sound sourced from the original tapes. It has to be said that, for all Klemperer’s mastery, it may clearly be heard that the strings here are not always perfectly tuned and the long, melodic spans of the famous “Air” suffer the most grievously from that flawed intonation. There are other accidents; for instance, an uncertain trumpeter makes a false entry and comes momentarily unstuck in the second Gavotte. Otherwise, this is a grand and noble account of Bach’s majestic Suite, vigorous and spirited.
 
The Mozart is similarly powerful and propulsive; Klemperer was amongst the first to break away from any residual notion of Mozart being a tunesmith of pretty melodies. There are again a few moments of rhythmic uncertainty but Klemperer brings both warmth and solidity to a performance which eschews any hint of tweeness. The Allegro con spirito finale is especially ebullient, the violins tearing up the fifth leaps as if possessed.
 
However, the highpoint of this compilation is the Beethoven symphony. There is a massive certainty to Klemperer’s direction which makes it truly compelling. It is simply the best performance of this symphony I know. The Cologne forces might not have been the best of all German orchestras but Klemperer galvanises them into delivering a performances which perfectly captures the composer’s daring. For all that the “Eroica” was supposedly Beethoven’s calling card, announcing the arrival of new spirit in Western music, played like this it is the First Symphony which seems to pre-empt the mission of that great work.
 
You will notice that I have made no allusion to Klemperer’s supposed predilection for slow tempi as that is not an issue here. This is simply one of the great 20th century conductors demonstrating his prowess in interpreting the music of the three greatest composers.

Ralph Moore

Masterwork Index: Beethoven symphony 1 ~~ Mozart symphony 29