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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No.25 in G minor, K183, [19.31]
Symphony No.39 in E-flat major, K543 [27.51]
Symphony No.40 in G minor, K550, [27.10]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Otto Klemperer
rec. Kingsway Hall, London 21, 23-25 July 1956.

This is the second release in Pristine’s splendid series of Klemperer’s Mozart recordings from the 1950’s. I gave the first release in the series an enthusiastic review, and there is no reason to revise my recommendation. Even if you own the complete EMI/Warner box of Klemperer’s Mozart Symphonies and Serenades, there is a marked improvement in recording quality to make the Pristine version worthwhile. Tape hiss is reduced and there is greater clarity of instrumental line. At this time the Philharmonia was one of the true world greats among orchestras, highly responsive but also filled with extraordinary musicians, many distinguished soloists in their own right. And Klemperer was a genius, and a sensitive Mozartian. His interpretations of the symphonies were both architecturally powerful and yet imbued with a sense of theatre.

Of course, these are not, in the modern sense, period performances, though orchestra size was reduced. They also have the estimable and utterly appropriate advantage of divided strings. Klemperer always insisted on this layout at a time when few conductors did – he and Adrian Boult were at this time almost unique on British concert platforms in eschewing the idea of massing all the violins to the left. (Klemperer was a great admirer of Stokowski, but accused him of initiating the more ‘modern’ layout in order to show off the wonderful cellos of the Philadelphia Orchestra). The separation of the violins permits us to hear the way they answer each other as they move across the aural stage.

Klemperer’s Mozart is big-boned, looking forward to the nineteenth century, rhythmically secure and deeply expressive. The instrumentation is wonderfully clear: Klemperer always gave prominence to the woodwinds, which matters in Mozart, where in other ‘big-band’ recordings of the time (Karajan/Böhm), their distinctive sound was frequently too restrained.

Some listeners may find the opening of Symphony No. 40 too stately, preferring a more forward movement. But this was obviously Klemperer’s way: his 1962 recording is remarkably similar in this movement, and a holding back does have the merit of building the symphony to a rousing conclusion. After over half of century of living with both recordings, I am still not sure whether I am fully convinced – and I think that I may not survive another fifty years to decide. No such doubts apply anywhere else about the validity of the interpretations. The almost rustic humour found in the minuets has its own charm, and even at the slowest tempos, Klemperer holds the pulse and sense of direction of the piece.

Here was a true great among musicians at the height of his powers, with penetrating insight and a deep and unwavering love of Mozart.

Michael Wilkinson



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