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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
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).

Klemperer’s Mozart will always divide opinion. Big-boned, muscular and driven, it is very far away from the world of powdered wigs and candelabra, and not much concerned with what would come to be known as ‘period practice’. It is without decoration – or harpsichord – yet deeply considered, expressive and powerful.

These recordings come from some of the most productive years of the conductor’s life, when he was at the height of his considerable powers. Later Mozart performances would lack some of the intensity found here, partly because of his increased frailty.

These recordings were originally in quite early stereo sound, but have been transformed by Pristine’s restoration. Comparison with the same recordings in the admirable EMI/Warner legacy set of Klemperer’s Mozart reveals how much more detail is immediately apparent. Of course, Klemperer’s orchestral balancing helps, immeasurably. Unlike many conductors of the 1950’s, Klemperer always divided his strings, so that the first and second violins are antiphonally heard in genuine conversation. Doing so, he is historically more ‘authentic’ than other ‘big band’ Mozartians such as Karajan. And, by his very forward balancing of woodwinds, he brings out every detail – like Mozart, he loved the sound and interplay of their timbres. The benefits of this approach are very apparent, for example, in the presto finale of the Linz symphony. The clarity of textures and rhythmic drive are enhanced in every way. For all the absence of period detail, there is no absence of wit and delight in the creative process.

And there is delicacy too, as in the initial adagio of the opening of the Prague Symphony. Transition to the ensuing allegro is masterly, as are the contrasts in dynamics. Yet, for all the subtlety, there is excitement too, and not only in the third movement presto. It is sometimes said that Klemperer’s tempos were slow. Certainly he became more measured in his last few years (though still faster than Celibidache), and William Mann, normally a fan, described his Festival Hall performance of The Marriage of Figaro as ‘slow, tortoise-like and didactic’, but when the mood took him, he could be fleet indeed, especially in the 1950’s (his uncut Cologne radio orchestra recording of Bruckner’s 8th Symphony, at around 72 minutes, is an example), and there is no lack of urgency.

Notes are minimal – an extract from an original Gramophone review from 1957, and a few sentences from Andrew Rose on his digital enhancement of the originals – but the music is the thing.

If you like your Mozart to look forward to Beethoven, this is certainly for you – deeply felt and rich in execution.

Michael Wilkinson

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