In 2011 a poll, carried out by BBC Music Magazine amongst 100 of today’s conductors, voted Carlos Kleiber (1930-2004) the greatest conductor of all time. This august body of maestros included Gergiev, Jansons, Dudamel and Colin Davis. Each felt inspired by the reclusive conductor who, during his life, had only conducted 96 concerts, and 400 opera performances. In the poll, Bernstein and Abbado came second and third respectively.
The enigmatic Kleiber, son of Erich, was a fastidious perfectionist, who hated anything that smacked of routine. He didn’t employ a manager and negotiated his own contracts and fees. He never gave interviews, probably to propagate his mythical status. His repertoire was small and restricted to works that he honed to perfection. He demanded, and got, up to five times more rehearsal time than any other conductor, which was willingly granted due to his exceptional vision of the music he was performing. As time went on, he conducted less and less, only appearing, as Karajan put it, when he was hungry and his fridge-freezer was empty.
This DVD has been issued previously, in 2003 by TDK (DV-DOCCK), and was favourably reviewed
for MusicWeb International by John Phillips. It includes rare black and white rehearsal footage of two overtures, Der Freischütz and Die Fledermaus, plus public performances of both works. The filming was done in Stuttgart in 1970.
This valuable record of the working practices of one of the great maestros of the twentieth century will be welcomed not only by music-lovers, but also by budding conductors. Kleiber was the perfectionist par excellence. Every performance he conducted was the result of meticulous preparation. He had that ability to translate and convey his musical vision in a vividly graphic way.
One thing that struck me when watching the DVD was the average age of the orchestral players which seems to be much older than those in orchestras today. Also, there is a notable deficiency of female players. Kleiber appears very warm and friendly, and is very respectful towards the players. He clearly knows the scores inside out and works with the orchestra to refine the interpretation, achieving a level of polish and perfection that make his performances so rewarding. His baton technique has a grace, flexibility and fluency I haven’t seen matched. His clear and easily discernible beat must be an absolute gift to the orchestral player.
This black and white film comes with mono sound. Booklet notes are in English, German and French. This is a treasured visual document, and hats off to Euroarts for restoring it to circulation.