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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers


Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Don Juan, Op.20 (1888) [15:01]
Til Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, Op.28 (1894-95) [13:58]
Salome, Op.54: Dance of the Seven Veils (1905) [8:38]
Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, Op.60: Intermezzo (1918) [3:56]*
Death and Transfiguration, Op.24 (1888-89) [20:43] *
Der Rosenkavalier, Op.59: Waltzes (1911) [7:36] *
Berlin State Operas Orchestra/Otto Klemperer, Leo Blech *
rec. 1928/29, Berlin

This is a cannily selected series of recordings which intelligently presents the complete Strauss recordings made on 78 by Otto Klemperer and Leo Blech. The sequence was made over a compressed time period in Weimar Berlin beginning in May 1928 and ending in October 1929. Two record companies were involved, Parlophon and Grammophon (Electrola), but only one orchestra, the hard-working Berlin State Opera Orchestra.

Klemperer had the disadvantage of being largely recorded by Parlophon, whose tendency to boxiness was pronounced. Fortunately, though, one can hear sufficient detail in his lithe 1929 Don Juan to appreciate just how fiery he was pre-war. He clearly enjoys the erotic potential in the music, encouraging some slinky portamenti, and driving rampantly through some the music. He can do nothing about the awkward balancing that the Parlophon engineers have imposed, nor can he be blamed for some bass overload. He substitutes a celesta for the glockenspiel, presumably for reasons of optimum projection in the unwarmed and compressed sound of the studio. I’m not sure if there’s a side join at 8:57, as I don’t have the original 78rpm set, but if so it’s skilfully done. What the Parlophons do induce however, in their flat orchestral perspective, is aural tiredness and this is also the case with Til Eulenspiegel. Set against that limitation is the vivid, disciplined and fast phrasing, the pliant wind playing, and a sense of dramatic architecture. If he listened to them Klemperer must have been disappointed by the sound quality of these Parlophons, especially as the year before he had recorded the Dance of the Seven Veils for Electrola. The warmth and much more open sound comes as a welcome relief.

Klemperer’s pre-war Strauss impresses by virtue of its linear design. Leo Blech was entrusted with one major work, Death and Transfiguration, in which the metrical freedom he enjoys contrasts with Klemperer’s much more ‘one-tempo’ approach. We also hear the sweet-toned concertmaster and a rather greater orchestral weight than in the Klemperer recordings, though this is presumably due to Electrola’s much superior engineering and recording hall. There’s a side join at 7:47, I think, which seems to have been tricky. In general Blech is the more malleable, elastic Strauss interpreter, and he encourages a veritable surfeit of portamenti at the end of the piece. Blech was often given small pieces to record in this era. The Intermezzo from Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme is brief but well-shaped and the waltzes from Rosenkavalier, which fit onto two 78rpm sides, make a fine impression.

This disc captures Strauss performance at a specific time and place under two very different but in many ways complementary conductors – the athletic, fast-moving Klemperer, and the more benign, indulgent Blech. Soon there was to be no more of that from them in Berlin.

Jonathan Woolf



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