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Klemperer in Geneva
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Nobilissima Visione – Konzert-Suite (1938) [19:46]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068 [23:04]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 97 [36:51]
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Otto Klemperer
rec. live, Victoria Hall, Geneva, Switzerland, 6 March 1957

After his enforced exile from Nazi Germany, Otto Klemperer endured twenty or more years of wandering before finally making his home in Switzerland. This CD presents a ‘live’ concert with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande (OSR) and is a product of his residency in that country. The performances are impressive for their ‘heroic scale’, as Peter Heyworth characterised Klemperer’s conducting in general. His attention to detail is accommodated within an unfailing sense of structure. The source of this CD issue is a high-quality French FM re-broadcast of a live recording.

Paul Hindemith was one of two composers – the other was Igor Stravinsky – whose music helped to establish Klemperer’s reputation as a modernist during his tenure at the Kroll Opera in Berlin between 1927 and 1931. Nobilissima Visione was a ‘choreographic legend’ in one act and five scenes for which Hindemith composed the music. Massine devised the choreography and danced it. The Suite which was taken from the music is in three movements. It is blazing and powerful – ‘visionary’ indeed – and the OSR under Klemperer responds with whole-hearted commitment to its demands, as it does to all the music played here.

Each of the works performed in this concert had been recorded in the studio by Klemperer with the Philharmonia Orchestra two or three years previously. A performance of Nobilissima Visione was probably his first recording for EMI. It was issued back-to-back with the Brahms/Haydn Variations on a ten-inch medium play disc and was most recently reissued in a CD boxed set of Klemperer conducting twentieth century music – review. In comparing this performance of the Hindemith with the OSR’s, due allowance must be made for the compromises of the ‘live’ recording process. Perhaps understandably, the Walter Legge/Philharmonia regime at its zenith surpasses the ‘live’ production from Geneva’s Victoria Hall – but not by as much as you might expect.

Klemperer’s direction varied only a little: the OSR performance is just under a minute faster. What is noticeable is the superior balance achieved by Klemperer and Legge in the studio. In the EMI recording, the drum which accompanies the solo flute (probably Gareth Morris) in the second movement’s March has a very tangible, but not exaggerated, presence – a dramatic effect which the composer surely wanted. In the OSR production the drum is there but is less present. In the fierce contrapuntal uproar which prevails at the conclusion of the third movement’s Passacaglia, the Philharmonia’s woodwinds are clearly discernible shrieking impressively amid the din, the OSR’s less so. EMI’s clear yet full-bodied, wide-ranging recording is, in short, a stunning example of high-fidelity mono sound, better than many a modern effort.

For the OSR’s performance of Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3, Klemperer uses an orchestra of large if indeterminate size and there are few concessions to ‘scholarship’. Yet what is clear from this performance and the Philharmonia recording he made in 1954 is that Klemperer was a Bach interpreter of formidable power, intellect and concentration. The studio performance has somewhat more clarity and may have used a smaller body of players and thus sounds a touch more ‘authentic’. The two readings are very similar in outline and their total timings differ by just one second. Listeners without ‘HIP’ prejudices, or able to suspend them for half an hour, will be impressed by these performances.

The best is last – Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. In assessing this recording, my benchmark was Klemperer’s superbly recorded 1955 EMI mono performance, not the one recorded in rather indifferent experimental stereo at the same time. Unfortunately, it is the latter version which has been included in the conductor’s EMI/Warner boxed set of Beethoven’s orchestral music. The mono performance was last available on a Naxos Historical release, coupled with the 1955 mono recording of the Fifth Symphony. The mono Seventh received Legge’s full attention, resulting in superb balance. Just listen to the way the timpani reinforce the climax of the last movement and elsewhere.

The 1955 performance is the fastest of Klemperer’s studio renditions, but this OSR example shaves almost two minutes off it. In both readings, he maintains what has been called his “inexorable forward momentum” without the need for rushing. In both recordings, the conductor, as is usual for him, exaggerates the great double hammer-blows in the first movement’s Allegro. Rather than impeding the momentum, this reminds us that a real conductor is in charge, not a mere time-beater. In every movement, the OSR responds magnificently, playing with great concentration and faithfully producing the conductor’s trademark granitic Beethoven textures. If this is not virtuoso orchestral playing, it is something very close to it.

In the OSR’s third movement Trio, something occurs which I have not noticed in any other Klemperer performance of this music: there is a delightful ‘swing’ and lilt in the playing, achieved without the pronounced slowing down Furtwängler used in his 1950 EMI studio recording.

I am almost certainly in a minority in disliking ‘express train’ speeds in the final movement. My objection is two-fold. Firstly, if the repeat is omitted - as it usually is - a very fast tempo makes the movement sound too short in relation to the rest of the work. Secondly, the faster the speed, the harder it is to maintain full intensity. Furtwängler managed to bring it off in his swift reading timed at 6:54; two seconds faster than Toscanini and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Walter took it even faster in his Sony stereo recording at 6:43 and didn’t quite bring it off. It was a slightly anti-climactic end to an otherwise great performance. Klemperer and the OSR allow themselves 7:41. It’s true that when they start this movement, one senses a trudge may be coming – but only for a moment. Very soon, there is a feeling of being irresistibly drawn into a vortex by what has been called the conductor’s “terrifying intensity”. One surrenders to it and is swept to an overwhelming conclusion. This is quite the finest Beethoven Seventh I have heard from Klemperer.

Pristine offers an admirable high fidelity mono recording. It faithfully conveys the warm, full, forward sound familiar to collectors of Ernest Ansermet’s recordings from the Victoria Hall. There is a slight tendency for the bass to ‘boom’ on occasion, which is easily ignored. The audience is quiet. Its applause was apparently not preserved in the source of the recording and so is not heard here.

Rob W McKenzie



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