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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No. 101 in D major, ‘The Clock’ [29:01]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No. 4 in E minor, [41:09]
Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks / Otto Klemperer
rec. live, Herkulessaal, Munich, 18-19 October 1956 (Haydn), 26-27 September 1957 (Brahms)
BR KLASSIK 900717 [70:10]

This is a document of more than historical interest, remastered into more than acceptable, if slightly low-level, sound. It provides insight into the mind of one of the true greats of conducting, but also wonderful illumination of the music.

It is usual for conductors to make their recordings after concert performances, but that was not Klemperer’s normal way. He would generally treat the recording process as preparation for the succeeding concert, almost as rehearsal. For all the treasures to be found in his discography, it has to be said that sometimes these have not quite the spontaneity or feeling of the concerts. (Interestingly, Klemperer said that he rarely listened to recordings, even his own, preferring either to attend concerts live or to listen to live performances on the radio.) That is why live recordings, such as the present one, have a different authority from studio recordings. There are losses and gains, notably in these mid-1950s Bavarian recordings which fail to bring out the clarity brought to Klemperer’s interpretations by his insistence on the use of divided strings. His very forward approach to the woodwinds is also slightly obscured.

Haydn’s Symphony No. 101 was probably Klemperer’s favourite Haydn work. Sometimes the second movement with the famous ‘ticking’ sound would emerge as something quite sinister, as in one live concert I heard. Here it is a touch more genial, but the insistence nags away. These are not ‘period’ performances – that would be anachronistic – but Klemperer’s forthrightness gives other benefits, not least a spaciousness which speaks of a deep sensitivity to the significance of the whole. Interestingly, compared with his EMI/Warner recording of 1960, tempi are more generous in the first two movements, but notably faster in the final two. Regardless of that, the sense of momentum is unflagging in both renditions.

The Brahms is even more rewarding. It is well known that Klemperer was a great Brahmsian. Roughly contemporaneous with his Philharmonia studio performance, but more spacious in execution, this Bavarian performance has a genuine poetry about it. An interesting comparison is with Carlos Kleiber’s famous performance on Deutsche Grammophon. Klemperer takes the first two movements more quickly than Kleiber, yet infuses the opening movement with greater poetry (Kleiber sometimes underplays the main themes to pick out details along the way). Klemperer is sometimes criticised for his stern approach, but here there is real warmth. The customary Klemperer touches are evident throughout – the sense of structure and rhythmic solidity are always evident.

Sixty years on, recording quality is not a distraction, but one needs to turn up the volume. These terrific performances from the hands of a master are to be treasured.

Michael Wilkinson

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