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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony No. 3 in D major, D 200 (1815) [20:55]
Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D759 Unfinished (1822) [24:23]
Vienna Philharmonic/Carlos Kleiber
rec. 11-15 September 1979, Musikvereinssaal, Vienna
Presto CD
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 415 601-2 [45:30]

This problematic release is another in the line of reissues by Presto making available CDs that are otherwise no longer available. In this case, there may be questions as to why this recording justifies a premium price. The equivalent analogue LP (2531 124) was released in 1979 and the critics greeted it with some reservations over the speeds in the Third Symphony. A full-price CD was issued in 1985 and later it came out as a DG Original (449 745-2) at mid-price, about 1997, subject to “Original bit re-mastering”. As far as I can tell, that issue is still available. There is also a box set of Carlos Kleiber’s Complete DG recordings (12 CDs) which includes a Blu-ray of all the recordings. What Presto have released is a straight reissue of the 1985 disc containing only 46 minutes of music. I’m unsure who this will appeal to.

Carlos Kleiber was undoubtedly a fine conductor, following in the footsteps of his father, the redoubtable Erich, who left us some classic recordings. Carlos’s repertoire was small and sadly we only have a few discs of orchestral music. Unlike his father, these are his only Schubert recordings; there is no “Great C major”. His performance of Schubert’s classically influenced Symphony has been criticized in the past over excessive speed. It’s some time since I heard the disc so I strove to approach it unprejudiced by any preconceptions. The opening is impressive and makes it clear that we have a formidable combination of orchestra and conductor. I’ve heard more joy and lightness in the development of the first movement, especially in comparison with Sir Thomas Beecham and the RPO (Warner - review by Ian Lace) but there is nothing major to object to. It’s when we get to the Allegretto, that I have to raise my hands in horror. Kleiber and the VPO adopt almost double the usual speed and complete the movement in 2:40 as against Beecham’s 5:05. It immediately puts this version out of court. The Menuetto seems a shade overdriven for this romantic work and I search for Schubertian charm in vain. The effect seems to me disjointed. It’s a Lšndler and should flow which it doesn’t do here. Yes, it’s beautifully played but the results seem perfunctory. The final Presto vivace goes quite well and has sparkle. It is the most successful of the four movements. My loyalties here are to Beecham’s studio version. Avoid the “live” recording on BBC Legends (review by Terry Barfoot). For a more recent collection opt for the Chamber Orchestra of Europe under Claudio Abbado (also on DG - review by Leslie Wright). I haven’t yet had the opportunity to hear Harnoncourt’s live cycle, his third, also with COE. This was given a very positive review recently by Stephen Greenbank (ICA Classics).

Carlos Kleiber’s “Unfinished” is in a completely different class and is outstanding in every way. The Allegro moderato has biting force and there is real bite in the VPO strings. I was really impressed by this and I’m delighted to say that the wonderfully moving Andante con moto is spellbinding, led by those distinctive strings and Viennese horns. This is an almost acerbic but definitely not clinical rendition of one of the cornerstones of the repertoire. The sound is better to my ears in this work. I didn’t feel any need to refer to the Blu-ray in the 12 CD box. Without any question, this is one of my preferred recordings of this work and I am perfectly happy with two movements; less is so often more.

There is clearly a problem when there are only two works on a comparatively short (45 minutes) full-price CD when there is one superb performance and one distinctly disappointing. The solution, I would opt for would be to purchase DG’s 2 CD set “Carlos Kleiber - Tribute to a Unique Artist” at budget price (DG 00289 477 5324). As well as “The Unfinished” you get his seminal Brahms’ Symphony 4 and extracts (Act III Sc. 3) from his highly regarded “Tristan und Isolde” with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Dame Margaret Price amongst the distinguished cast in Dresden. That is presupposing you aren’t lulled, as I was, into purchasing The Complete Carlos Kleiber recordings on DG, complete with Blu-ray.

Kleiber’s Schubert Third Symphony is very disappointing. His “Unfinished” is magnificent. Do get it but as I suggest, purchase in a more economic and rewarding format.
David R Dunsmore

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