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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Klemperer Conducts Mozart - Volume 1
Symphony No.35 in D major, K385, ‘Haffner’ [18.25]
Symphony No.36 in C major, K425, ‘Linz’ [27.07]
Symphony No.38 in D major, K504, ‘Prague’ [27.05]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Otto Klemperer
rec. Kingsway Hall, London, 19-20, 23-24 July 1956 (36, 38); Abbey Road Studio No. 1, London, 22-23 October 1960 (35).
PRISTINE AUDIO PASC599 [72.37]

These restored recordings from some sixty years ago come from another world. Big-boned but not anachronistic Mozart, they’re very different from the historically informed performances from the likes of Sir Charles Mackerras on Linn which is probably my reference these days.

It’s important to remember, that whilst I would tend to go to contemporary recordings by Bruno Walter and Thomas Beecham on Sony, Klemperer’s Mozart was highly regarded at the time. I can remember hearing some of his Mozart in the 1970s with the familiar “Nipper” label. His Mozart was also compared favourably, in such publications as Gramophone, to Karl Böhm. Böhm it was who, before his complete BPO/DG cycle ten years later, made some Mozart recordings with the Concertgebouw, originally on Philips, now DG. I have an “Original Masters” 8 CD set with some vintage Richard Strauss. There were also recordings by Georg Solti and Vittorio Gui. Although I was a mere toddler when these records were made, I know from older relatives who went to the legendary concerts, of the unique quality of Otto Klemperer who, under producer and svengali Walter Legge, took over the young Philharmonia after Karajan. Karajan’s London Mozart was really fresh and exciting, especially a wonderful “Cosi fan Tutte”, still my favourite. He had departed for Berlin. He was mainly regarded for his Brahms and Beethoven but at the time his Mozart garnered good response. By the late 1960s a more enlightened approach appeared from the likes of Istvan Kertesz, Colin Davis and Daniel Barenboim. Their recordings, I greatly enjoy and they were to lead to conductors like Jeffrey Tate and Charles Mackerras. The oft-asked question, when approaching these kinds of reissues is do we consider it from the Artist point of view or Performance?

Pristine’s disc is the first volume of Mozart symphonies with Klemperer and the Philharmonia. When completed this will be on three CDs, either separately or, slightly reduced, as a set. The London “Linz” from 1956, is a sole recording; also, from that year is the earlier “Prague”. The 1962 version is with all his orchestral recordings in the EMI/Warners set (review). Klemperer’s only “Haffner” comes from 1960. It was the year when, aged 75 he was just beginning to slow down. This had a gradual deteriorating effect on his Mozart. His studio recordings of “Die Zauberflöte” and “Don Giovanni” are still highly regarded. His “Le Nozze di Figaro” and “Cosi fan Tutte” tend to elicit unfavourable comments including the predictable “sounding like Beethoven”. These opera recordings are now conveniently available in a companion budget EMI/Warners box, at around £2, featuring some awesome singing. This is still worthwhile unless you find any nineteenth century practice abhorrent. To date Pristine haven’t re-mastered Klemperer’s studio Mozart operas, preferring Carlo Maria Giulini, there is a live “Die Zauberflöte” with Dame Joan Sutherland, that sounds exciting which doesn’t appear to have been reviewed here yet. However, whilst Giulini had great success with two Mozart operas, particularly “Don Giovanni”, he never recorded the Symphonies, in the studio for HMV. He did only the last three for Sony in his twilight years.

Christopher Howell in his review felt that the “Haffner” showed Klemperer’s Mozart at its very finest. Right from the start, there is a real sense of power and the sound from sixty years ago is astonishingly clear. The impetus and full-bodied sound make the question of speed hardly an issue. The slow movement has always been a favourite and the same goes in particular and rather surprisingly, for the pre-war recording by Toscanini and the New York Philharmonic. The latter was restored by Pristine and I reviewed it in a superb set in January 2020. There is a jauntiness in the development that seems in line with the slightly bizarre cover picture of a benign Otto, smiling. The antiphonal effect of the divided first and second violins is charmingly brought out. The Menuetto goes with a real swagger but not without a certain gracefulness. I should mention that Klemperer doesn’t go in for repeats, possibly because of restricted LP sides, so we’re into the Presto very quickly. Whether the conductor of 1960, being a mere 75, was livelier than the traditional conception, this definitely has a classical feel to it. There are no discernible traces of Beethoven. How wonderful to hear that famous wind section, sadly in this work missing Dennis Brain. The Philharmonia was still in its heyday and bring the symphony to an emphatic conclusion. This is without doubt a very fine performance in glorious sound. I’ll admit to being slightly surprised, in a positive way.

Moving onwards to the “Linz”, Pristine chose the 1956 recording. Christopher Howell stated that it was outstanding. After, what I’d describe as a ponderous beginning Klemperer energises himself and the orchestra into a certainly unsentimental but positively forceful Allegro Spiritoso. They play like men possessed. Perhaps, inevitably my favourite version of the “Linz” from this era is the 1953 mono recording issued as “Birth of a Performance” with rehearsal and comments by Bruno Walter. The Walter can now be heard in a huge Sony collection but can be found in smaller sets, or streamed. Walter and Klemperer were Mahler disciples, who, it should be remembered, was highly regarded as a Mozart conductor. Their interpretations are very different. The Andante Con Moto really benefits from the separation of the strings and the warm ambience of the Kingsway Hall is very evident. There are traces of “Die Zauberflöte” in the horns here and as mentioned Klemperer was perhaps most sympathetic to that characteristic of Mozart. There is light and shade here but there is always a serious undercurrent to this Mozart music-making. In his review of a fascinating reissue of HMV Stereo Recordings Volume 2 by the London Music Players under the genial Harry Blech FHR, Michael Greenhalgh compares the “Linz” from December 1954 with Otto Klemperer’s 1956 outing. I’ve just acquired the Blech but not had time to give it a proper airing. Klemperer’s Minuet is criticised as being just a little too measured, but I think it fits into his overall conception of the work. The Presto is on the heavy side but doesn’t hang about and there is a genial feeling somewhere in this performance which contradicts what might be expected. The Pristine re-mastering brings out Mozart’s antiphonal writing through the benefit of stereo when the theme passes at 4:47 from first violins on the left to the seconds on the right. It’s fortunate that there were stereo recordings made of these 1956 recordings, bearing in mind, producer Walter Legges’s renowned antipathy to stereo. Like the recording of No.25 from the same year, there was no remake of “The Linz”, which indicates how successful it was considered. Despite certain qualifications, this performance is a splendid example of the high summer of Klemperer and the Philharmonia and definitely should be heard.

With the earlier “Prague”, Klemperer is usually regarded as more successful than in his 1962 iteration, present in the EMI/Warners collection but ignored for these Pristine refurbished discs. There is again a pulse and momentum present in the subsequent Allegro after an ominous Adagio. At the risk of repetition, the stereo sound with the orchestra, albeit large, as set before the listener is very impressive. It reminds me of the overture for “Don Giovanni” which Carlo Maria Giulini took over from an indisposed Klemperer in 1959 which meant that the later 1966 recording with the New Philharmonia, when it came, was inevitably lacking the same vigour if not with the same torpor of “Cosi” and “Figaro”. The Adagio is delightful before the final Presto with its wind cacophony brings this three-movement work to a joyful ending.

Andrew Rose is to be thanked profusely for bringing out the best of these venerable if not ancient recordings. I enjoyed them immensely and look forward very much to the other two volumes.

David R Dunsmore

Previous review: Michael Wilkinson



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