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Klemperer in Philadelphia – Volume 1
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 in F major, BWV 1046 [24:48]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No. 3 in F major, Op. 90 [38:21]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Egmont Op. 84 – Overture [10:02]
Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Op. 55 Eroica [53:34]
Philadelphia Orchestra/Otto Klemperer
rec. live, Academy of Music, October/November 1962
PRISTINE AUDIO PASC465 [63:09 + 63:35]

Klemperer in Philadelphia – Volume 2
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 41 in C major, K. 551 Jupiter [36:39]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92 [40:31]
Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68 Pastoral [49:08]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810–1856)
Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op. 120 [28:35]
Philadelphia Orchestra/Otto Klemperer
rec. live, Academy of Music, October/November 1962
PRISTINE AUDIO PASC467 [77:10 + 77:43]

In late 1934, Leopold Stokowski announced his resignation as the long-time principal conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Otto Klemperer, a refugee from Nazi Germany, was engaged to conduct a season of concerts with the orchestra in January and February of the following year. The Bruckner and Mahler performances which he included in his Philadelphia concerts were moderately successful, but received greater audience and critical acclaim when he and the orchestra performed them in New York. Based on this success, Klemperer hoped he would be appointed Stokowski's successor. However, the latter conductor reconciled with the orchestra's board and the vacancy lapsed. When Stokowski resigned a second time in late 1935, the board appointed Eugene Ormandy to the position and Klemperer's hopes were permanently dashed.

In late autumn 1962, the conductor was reunited with the orchestra when he gave a series of concerts with them in Philadelphia, New York, Washington and Baltimore. The Philadelphia concerts were recorded in stereo and have now been restored by Pristine Classics and reissued in these two double-albums. The audiences were, at the very least, respectful and sometimes responded with an ovation. The critics, however, were reserved, complaining of slow tempos and a tendency to scrutinise every phrase. Winthrop Sargeant in the New Yorker put the critics' concerns into perspective. Audiences, he believed, were unaccustomed to Klemperer's style because of Toscanini's long dominance of the American orchestral scene. Klemperer's performances had 'unmistakeable grandeur' and were 'remarkable for their clarity of detail'.

(Sourced and adapted from Peter Heyworth’s Otto Klemperer – His Life and Times, CUP, 1996.)

Although more than half a century old, these performances are not period pieces. Klemperer was a modernist who championed the music of the twentieth century. Unlike many of his near-contemporaries, he did not use expressive devices like fluctuating tempos and significant instrumental ‘re-touchings’. He preferred steady tempos. The orchestral sound was big but detailed. Mannerisms were few. Liberties were very occasionally taken, mainly in the form of cuts. Surface beauty and superficial excitement alike were shunned. He was an intellectual - his command of structure was unsurpassed - but he was not interested in ‘scholarship’. His performances had honesty, integrity and power.

Pristine's sound is warm, rich and deep and, in general, well balanced. Pristine states that it used the acoustic of a fine venue to add warmth to the somewhat dry sound on the tapes. The result reproduces the famous sheen of the orchestra very well, although I would not call it a typical Klemperer sound. That was drier, grittier and more detailed — see my comments below on the recording of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. Still, these magisterial performances can be enjoyed in this sumptuous sound.

There is little in these sets which will startle those who know their Klemperer. The performances are basically iterations of the conductor's well known way with this music — all of which he had recorded for EMI a few years earlier.

In the case of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 I was initially nonplussed by the disparities in the movement timings between this performance and the conductor's EMI studio version of two years earlier. EMI's track 2 (containing the second movement Adagio) runs for 4:35 whereas Pristine's track 2 (also supposedly the Adagio) lasts 15:21. Yet the timings of the two performances of the whole concerto are within a minute or so of each other. What has happened is this: Pristine's track 2 contains not only the Adagio, but the third movement Allegro and part of the fourth movement Menuetto. The next bit of the Menuetto is found in track 3, and wrongly labelled Allegro, leaving only the last three minutes of the Menuetto to sit where it belongs - in track 4. Presumably, Pristine will correct these matters when the chance arises.

Bach's scoring for this work includes a violino piccolo (a small violin) and a harpsichord. I doubt whether Klemperer used the former in either of these recordings. He certainly used a harpsichordist (George Malcolm) in London, but I'm not at all certain he had one in Philadelphia. The balance in Philadelphia strongly favours the horns and the largish string section; the woodwinds tend to struggle. So perhaps the harpsichord was there. The horns, incidentally, are wonderfully vital and poised. The EMI recording seems to use a smaller string section and has a clearer, studio-based sound, so it feels a little more 'authentic'. The Philadelphia performance is warm with tempi expansive but steady and never metronomic. This is the one truly controversial performance in the two sets. 'Authenticists' will reject it but, even today, there are those who can revel in this more 'romantic' Bach than the one we have become used to.

Brahms, it has been said, is ‘the patron saint of those who have grown old without achieving heart's desire’ and that is plain in this Symphony No. 3. One or two of Klemperer's eminent colleagues couldn't come to terms with this symphony, but he did, and so did Bruno Walter, perhaps because of their life experiences. I compared this performance with readings by Klemperer on EMI stereo and Walter on Sony stereo. All three capture the ‘Autumnal’ yet changing moods of the symphony. Walter omits the first movement repeat without doing too much damage to the structure — he was averse to repeats — and Klemperer includes it in both performances. Walter’s more moulded approach uses basic tempos in the first three movements which are similar to Klemperer’s steadier ones on EMI, except in the Finale where Walter is brisker. Klemperer is a shade more expansive in Philadelphia than London … by about a minute and a half. Walter’s is one of the finest of his stereo recordings in terms of both performance and sound. Both the Klemperer recordings are likewise authoritative.

No conductor ever surpassed Klemperer's performances of the Egmont Overture. His approach was to use a steady tempo and build slowly to a great climax at the end. Walter, who recorded Leonore No. 3 masterfully in Vienna, sadly misjudged Egmont in his Sony recording, slowing down mid-way, then having to speed up unconvincingly later on. A special mention for Klemperer's piccolo player in Philadelphia who rightly dominates the orchestra at the end.

Some years ago on television, a conductor was seen rehearsing the Beethoven Eroica with his period instrument orchestra. He advised the players that the first movement was "like galloping horses". Those viewers who recalled that the French revolution inspired this symphony might have found that his description - and performance – did not evoke the heroic spirit of that event. They might prefer an alternative description - "massive forces in motion" – which is what Klemperer’s performances gave us. I’ve heard four of them: the Philharmonia Orchestra EMI studio productions of 1955 (mono) and 1959 (stereo), the Royal Danish Orchestra live recording of 1957 on Testament (mono) and this one with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

The Danish performance is the first choice of some listeners. It has great intensity, emphasised by the close and dryish recording, but lacks Klemperer’s characteristic spaciousness. The Funeral March is quicker than in four other famous performances I compared it with and to an extent misses its full stature. I’d guess the whole performance was a product of a manic phase of the conductor’s well-known bi-polar condition. The nearest to it in timing is the admired 1955 performance which has better sound and is better played. The superb horns are led by Dennis Brain in the third movement trio and the coda of the last movement. Its Funeral March is finer, but does not have the stature of the 1959 remake or this Philadelphia performance. Both of these offer a notably deeper and grander Funeral March.

The Philadelphia performance resembles the 1959 recording and has almost identical timings in all movements. The first movement is on the largest scale and the important thing is that it coheres, the final note envisaged, as it were, from the first. Everything leads to a great climax at the end of the movement where the trumpets, while present, do not dominate to the exclusion of other instruments. The slow movement Funeral March is immensely moving, although every performance of this piece has to yield to Toscanini's live 1939 version with the NBC Symphony Orchestra — which has almost the same timing – 16:25. This has unsurpassed tragic grandeur, accompanied by remarkable internal clarity which could only have been achieved by absolute precision; helped by the typically dry acoustic. The Philadelphia third movement is a touch stately, but of a piece with the overall conception. In the Finale, Klemperer scores — as Walter does on Sony — by getting the movement off to an arresting start without using Toscanini's whiplash attack. As this movement progresses, do I detect a little more relaxation in the quieter passages than Klemperer permits in his studio recordings? A gesture, perhaps, to a great romantic orchestra? A touch of flexibility from the podium helps the horns articulate their important part in an exciting coda whereas Toscanini’s horns sound a little rushed.

I compared this Mozart Symphony No. 41, Jupiter recording with Klemperer's two studio recordings (EMI, 1954 and 1962), Böhm (DG 1962) and Walter (US Columbia 1945, available in Pristine's 'Bruno Walter Rarities' 2015).

Klemperer's Philadelphia performance gives the work the stature of a romantic symphony, an approach which I think it can withstand. At first glance, its physical proportions seem daunting: it runs for 36:39 whereas all the other performances mentioned — including the conductor's studio recordings — run for less than half an hour. The difference is mostly explained by the fact that the Philadelphia performance is the only one that includes the repeats in both the outer movements. This adds about six minutes overall. The conductor's dramatic 1954 studio performance finds room for a repeat in the last movement, but not in the first. His 1962 studio version, and Böhm's and Walter's, omit the repeats in both movements.

It is in the first two movements that the Philadelphia reading differs significantly from most of the others. In Philadelphia, these movements are broadly paced but lack nothing in intensity. Böhm is closest to the classical ideal, dispatching both these movements swiftly in his straightforward, unmannered style. Walter is not far behind him, although his performance is more moulded, as you would expect. Klemperer in 1954 is close to Walter in overall timing, but steady in pulse and more intense, giving a heroic feel to his performance. Klemperer in his 1962 studio performance slows down by about a minute in both the movements, giving a feeling of - as the 'Gramophone' put it at the time - 'classical grace'.

If the Philadelphia audience in 1962 thought that Klemperer would drag his feet in the last two movements, they were about to be surprised. His third movement is well up to speed and actually faster than Böhm's. His speed for the Finale is broadly comparable with the other performances, allowing for his inclusion of the repeat, and, with the advantage of his unsurpassed intensity, the effect is something of a whirlwind. A satisfying conclusion.
 
Klemperer made four EMI studio recordings of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, if you count his 1955 mono and stereo recordings as separate productions - which they were. I've chosen the third of these - his 1960 stereo recording - as a basis for comparison. For my other comparison, I wanted a complete contrast with Klemperer’s approach - in good sound. To be slightly venturesome, I selected Carlos Kleiber’s live recording with the Bavarian State Orchestra on Orfeo, released in 1982, rather than his more famous DG studio recording from the 1970s.

Kleiber's performance is conceived in the classical, Toscanini style, with swift tempos and incisive rhythms but, with fewer repeats and even faster speeds than his DG recording, it understates a significant aspect of the score: its rustic, lyrical qualities. Bruno Walter's stereo performance on Sony captured this aspect to perfection in the first three movements, but his Finale was less satisfying in several ways. Kleiber gives unusual prominence to the cello theme heard early in the Allegretto, a device which is not entirely convincing. He omits all repeats, except in the Scherzo, and his speeds in all movements are faster than Toscanini’s in his pre-war BBC Symphony Orchestra performance (EMI also West Hill Radio Archives). In the Finale, Kleiber is half a minute faster than Toscanini. This is a significant acceleration in a seven-minute movement and frankly places physical excitement before any other qualities. The Bavarian orchestra sounds the equal of any in Europe and the sound is outstanding.

In his DG performance only, Kleiber included the repeats in both the outer movements, whereas Klemperer omitted them in both his, perhaps in recognition of the expansiveness afforded by his much slower tempos. Predictably, he obtains a much weightier and darker tone than Kleiber did.

The timings of Klemperer’s two recordings can be directly compared — due to their identical treatment of repeats — and it is interesting to note that in Philadelphia he was a minute faster than in London. Neither performance is 'the apotheosis of the dance' but the EMI performance has been called 'titanic' and that description applies even more to the one in Philadelphia. With this conductor, the excitement comes not from speed but from the intensity of the playing he obtains. Be prepared for a famous Klemperer 'ear-tickler' in the first movement's Allegro: his exaggeration of the great double hammer-blows. Some may find this a mannerism; others may guiltily look forward to it each time they hear him in this work.

There is a marked difference in the sound produced by Klemperer’s two orchestras. In London, he obtained his usual rather grainy Beethoven sound from the Philharmonia players. In Philadelphia, the orchestra - as presented by Pristine - retained its trademark tonal sheen.

To judge by the number of memorable recordings which have appeared over the last ninety years, Beethoven's Symphony No. 6, Pastoral may be the favourite symphony of the great conductors; I can think of only one significant conductor who recorded it unsatisfyingly. It was also the symphony by which many of us first experienced Beethoven's orchestral music and so has a special place in our hearts.

My own favourite versions could hardly be more different: Toscanini's pre-war recording on HMV (reissued in 2013 on EMI; also Naxos), Walter's Sony stereo and Klemperer's EMI stereo. There is a well known story that when Klemperer was rehearsing the third movement 'Peasants' Merrymaking', EMI producer Walter Legge phoned him from the control room to question his slow tempo. ‘You will get used to it’ was the laconic reply. In Philadelphia, the conductor added an extra half-minute to this movement, so these peasants are indeed heavy-footed - as some of us might expect peasants to be.

The first two movements are also slow, although the timing of 14 minutes for the Allegro is partly accounted for by Klemperer's inclusion of the repeat, which adds at least three minutes to this movement. The other two conductors omit it. Klemperer's speeds allow him to exploit to the full the orchestra's seemingly limitless tonal reserves, grounded in an immensely powerful bass. Reject his tempos if you must, but you will never hear this work more beautifully or more powerfully played. The storm is utterly overwhelming and takes only a few seconds longer than Toscanini's and Walter's. The last movement 'Thanksgiving' is unexceptionally paced and flows steadily and gently to its end.

Gentleness is a characteristic of Walter's entire recording - but it is gentleness with backbone. It's a warmly expansive, Viennese romantic interpretation with the lighter tone quality and more flexible tempos that such an approach would imply. After Walter and Klemperer, Toscanini’s account sounds almost like an 'historically informed' performance without the bugbear — as some would see it — of period instruments. Tone quality is lighter and focused on the treble end of the orchestra. Speeds are swifter. There is great internal clarity, bringing prominent woodwind detail. The most important thing is that the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Toscanini prove to be ideal foils to one another: the conductor imparts precision and rhythmic drive and the orchestra tempers these with its special warmth and flexibility. The result is a performance with a rare combination of vitality and lyricism.

My choice between the two Klemperer versions rests with the EMI studio account because of its marginally more conventional pacing; it's three minutes faster. Still, if you have any sympathy at all for the conductor's way with this symphony, you'll want to hear the incomparable sonic glories of the Philadelphia performance.

Pristine’s liner-notes quote from a recent review in the Philadelphia Inquirer in which David Patrick Stearns calls this performance of Schumann's Symphony No. 4 the 'best' among those the conductor gave in Philadelphia in 1962. Given the stature of the performance, I'd call it not merely the best, but the greatest.

Perhaps we should forget about the supposed weaknesses of this work — actually Schumann's second in order of composition — and listen to what some great German conductors make of it. I've compared this performance with the same conductor's 1960 EMI studio recording and those by Furtwängler (DG 1953 also Tahra) and Walter (HMV/Dutton 1938/94 also Guild).

Walter's performance, lasting just under 24 minutes, is far shorter than the next contender, Klemperer's studio performance, which runs for 28:25. Walter's timing reflects his omission of the first movement exposition repeat — all the other recordings retain it — but also his swift tempos. As recorded and restored, the performance has a surprising lack of impact and majesty. This may be partly or wholly due to the sound, which is rather remote and cloudy. Regardless of the reason, Walter's recording is disappointing. Perhaps a modern restoration would improve matters.

Furtwängler's recording has long been regarded as the gold standard for this work. It gives us the rare chance to hear the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra of his time in high fidelity sound. It's the most expansive of the four performances, lasting about a minute and a half longer than either of Klemperer’s performances, which run within a few seconds of each other. Furtwängler pays his tribute to Schumann by his subtle variations in tempo, his majestic treatment of the outer movements, his relative gentleness in the inner movements and his not unexpected speeding up at the conclusion of the final movement.

The two Klemperer performances are similar to each other in concept and, as mentioned above, in pacing. Tempos are not slow, and in contrast with Furtwängler, steadily maintained. Where the Philadelphia performance exceeds the studio version is in, to quote Stearns again, its 'terrifying’ intensity. The listener is confronted with a massive sound which is not static but moving inexorably forward. The final movement builds up to a conclusion of overwhelming force, eliciting shouts of acclamation from the audience. No thoughts of 'weak writing' here. This performance is a supreme exposition of high German romanticism without the interpretive distortions which sometimes accompany it. Alone worth the price of the set.

In conclusion, These two double albums will appeal strongly, not just to the conductor’s enthusiasts, but to all lovers of great conducting, effortless and sumptuous orchestral playing and ripe stereo sound. They will sustain repeated hearings. Audiences are well behaved throughout.

Rob W McKenzie






 

 




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