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Otto Klemperer’s Long Journey through His Times/Klemperer: The Last Concert
Two films by Philo Bregstein
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
King Stephen Overture, Op.117
Piano Concerto No.4 in G major, Op.58
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No.3 in F major, Op.90
Daniel Adni (piano)
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Otto Klemperer
rec. Royal Festival Hall, London, September 26, 1971
Sound Formats PCM Stereo (DVD) and Mono (CD); Picture Formats 16:9 (Last Concert) and 4:3 (Long Journey and bonus material). Audio; Multilingual. Subtitles DE, EN, FR, JP, KOR. Region Code 0.
Includes 180pp book in English, German and French Includes
ARTHAUS MUSIK 109289 [2 DVDs: 209 mins & 2 CDs: 88:00]

Housed in a box the size of a brick comes an audio-visual collection devoted to Otto Klemperer. There are two films by Philo Bregstein. ‘Otto Klemperer’s Long Journey Through his Times’ is a restored and re-edited version of a film that was originally released two decades ago and has long since been commercially unavailable. ‘Klemperer: the Last Concert’ is precisely that, with the proviso that it doesn’t include the whole concert but does also include extracts from three rehearsals. Two CDs of the concert have been digitally remastered, though it’s fair to point out that the original recording was in mono. This time the whole concert is intact. Finally, there is a chunky trilingual book of 180 pages.

The Long Journey DVD is a valuable visual adjunct to biographical sources on Klemperer – principally Peter Heyworth’s magisterial two-volume biography. It reflects his position in the cultural life of Germany, amplifies the impact made on the young conductor by Mahler, goes on to note the importance of the Kroll and – a less well remembered feature of Klemperer’s life – his great popularity in the Soviet Union between 1924 and 1936. Trotsky famously came to see him in his dressing room after a concert in 1925. His American exile, largely depressing, and his resurrection in Budapest are covered as are, inevitably, though not glutinously, the Philharmonia years. The archive material includes scenes from Walter Felsenstein’s 1949 production of Bizet’s Carmen at the Komische Oper in Berlin, a Philharmonia Orchestra rehearsal in Vienna in 1960 – where Klemperer throws a brief fit – shots from the well-known Beethoven Ninth at the Royal Albert Hall, and a plethora of still photographs. Of real interest is a very rare filmed interview with Ernst Bloch, thoughts from composer Paul Dessau, Pierre Boulez, Fritz Zweig, and Tietjen. Lovers of the princely members of the Philharmonia will enjoy seeing Gareth Morris, Raymond Clark and Herbert Downes.

Bregstein’s acknowledged intent in this film was to evoke the musical, cultural and political history of the twentieth century through the prism of one man, Klemperer. Didactic though this may sound – and impossible though it might seem – in practice the focus is sharper. Restoration has involved re-editing, the removal of unnecessary images and technical improvements. Essentially, though, it remains largely the same artifact as before.

Klemperer gave Bregstein permission to film rehearsals and recording sessions in London in 1971 at Abbey Road and the Royal Festival Hall and also at Hammersmith Town Hall, in colour. The focus was on the first movement of Brahms’ Third Symphony. The RFH footage was from a single fixed camera, focusing on the conductor, due to the constraints imposed on the circumstances of filming. The restoration of the footage was helped over the years by Klemperer’s assistant Otto Fredenthal, who can be seen as Dr K’s right-hand man in the rehearsals, and also by the Philharmonia Orchestra itself – from whom we see its current managing director, David Whelton who gives a brief overview of Klemperer’s life and times, as well as cellist Karen Stephenson. Ashkenazy is interviewed talking of his appearance with Klemperer in Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto in 1969. Musicologist Antony Beaumont, himself an erstwhile violinist, recalls his unexpected appearance at what was to prove Klemperer’s ‘Last Concert’. Klemperer watchers will note that their hero addresses the orchestra, which contained a number of women, thus: ‘Gut mornink, chentlemen.’

The CDs open with the Festival Hall announcer telling the audience that in accordance with Dr Klemperer’s request, the orchestral players appear in ‘informal dress’. Klemperer had a long-standing dislike of penguin suits. Despite the relatively constricted nature of the mono sound the King Stephen overture emerges strongly, Klemperer ensuring that the winds are characteristically forward in the balance. Tape hiss is inevitable though not especially distracting during Daniel Adni’s performance of Beethoven’s G major Concerto. He was one of several talented young pianists to enjoy the privilege of working with Klemperer; Ashkenazy and Barenboim being two obvious other cases. There are clear tensions between Adni and Klemperer, especially in the finale where Adni wants to push on in defiance of the conductor. Certainly Barenboim’s recorded cycle with the conductor displays a more harmonious attention to tempi. The Brahms is on CD2. Hearing the first movement of the Brahms rehearsed so thoroughly makes the process of listening to the symphony that much more intriguing and indeed satisfying. It’s a memorable way to end things, a rugged but sympathetic performance.

If you have the room for a brick and fancy the idea of the permanent audio record and the more dippable-into DVDs then this splendidly realised set is for you.

Jonathan Woolf



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