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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 Otto Klemperer’s Mozart recordings from the mid-1950s and early 1960s. I’ve reviewed the other two issues, Vol. 1 (review) and Vol. 3 (review), which are excellent. They not only illustrate Klemperer’s Mozartean strengths but also, in part, give the lie to the generally held theory, as voiced on BBC Radio 3 recently, that he was always ponderous and tending towards irrelevance. In my positive review of the third CD, surprisingly containing the later recording of the “Jupiter”, I expressed a desire to audition this disc as it contains my favourite Mozart Symphony No.39. I’m very grateful to Pristine Audio for sending this to me. It certainly lived up to and exceeded my expectations. These recordings originally were boxed together in an EMI/Warner set of Klemperer’s Mozart Symphonies and Serenades (review). As Michael Wilkinson’s review states, there is a marked improvement in recording quality, making the Pristine version worthwhile. Overall the sound has a sheen that recalls the days of vinyl and glowing valves but without the concomitant scratches and hiss.
Symphony No. 25 is one of the great recordings by Klemperer with the Philharmonia. It has a freshness that belies its 65 years. It is treated as a youthful work yet with eighteenth century credentials. The first movement, which was used so effectively in “Amadeus” really gets the blood racing and it’s delightful to have the fine orchestra spread in front of one. With the Andante the pulse is apparent throughout. I compare this with Bruno Walter’s a fine version, recorded in mono in late 1954. Klemperer has much more vibrancy whereas I felt Walter’s reading exuded a slight world-weariness. The Menuetto and Trio and Allegro are really moving and are fine illustrations of Klemperer’s qualities and sensitivities at this stage in his career. In the Trio, the famous wind “Royal Family” are sublime and the orchestra really give their all in the spirited if slightly uneasy Finale. This Mozart’s first really important symphony and an excellent example of “Sturm und Drang”: turbulent emotion or stress as might be expected of the 17 year old Mozart. Klemperer never re-recorded this Symphony. He must have felt he’d said all he could. I can’t imagine any improvement possible.
Symphony No. 39 is a work I know better than any other. It has been part of my life for nearly sixty years. Klemperer made two studio recordings: 1956 and in 1962. Christopher Howell in his review of the box Set felt there were arguments, on this occasion in favour of the 1962 remake: “The tempi (1962) are only marginally slower and the result lends the reading a stature it just missed before”. He drew comparisons with the “Eroica” but I felt that the speeds here were appropriate and above all the pulse was ever-present. The lovely yet wistful Andante con molto has an emotion that seems appropriate and we’re certainly listening to an eighteenth century work. I’m reminded of a comment that his late recording of Cosi fan tutte sounded like Beethoven; not true here. There is even a chortle present in the orchestra and what a boon that the first and second violins are separated. I could write paragraphs extolling this movement as recorded at this time. I grew up learning the work under Beecham and then Colin Davis, whose 1961 Philips recording I praised on reissue last year (review). I was aware of Klemperer’s recording as relations of mine had a copy. I thought it very fine. He takes the Menuetto with Mozartean good manners and at exactly the right speed (in my book). It’s when we get to the Trio that we reach Nirvana. It’s just wonderful and intensely moving; wonderful work by the clarinettist, probably Bernard Walton. I was told, growing up that the Finale was inconsequential and Mozart wasn’t really giving his best here. I’ve certainly changed my opinion. Klemperer and the Philharmonia seem right inside the music and convey its joyful vibrancy; possibly the happiest final movement in later Mozart. I don’t want to sound ungrateful but could Pristine consider also re-mastering the 1962 version, please? Meanwhile I’m so delighted to have heard this wonderful and splendidly reburnished recording.

Symphony No. 40 may be regarded by some as the sophisticated cousin of No.25. Certainly it has dark overtones. Michael Wilkinson suggests that some might feel the opening movement too stately. Hearing it again after some years, that was also my first reaction. However, with great performances one soon adjusts and a steadier tempo does allow the listener to enjoy felicities of which there are many en-route. As throughout this disc, the seventy year old Klemperer maintains an internal pulse. The Andante is really beautiful but never sentimental and certainly not stagnant. My first encounter with Klemperer came in those TV broadcasts of Beethoven at the RFH in about 1971. They what was really only a travesty of a once world class conductor. The playing conjured up on this disc is quite magnificent. This places these as amongst the greatest Mozart interpretations here given a fantastic new lease of life. There’s no heaviness or lethargy; just Mozart’s genius wonderfully conveyed. There’s definitely a hint of more than a smile in the Minuet. Again the antiphonal placing of the strings is brought out to perfection. Walter Legge was stubbornly against stereo. For example Karajan’s brilliant Cosi fan Tutte which would have so benefited from two channels. Lovers of horn player Dennis Brain will hear him in fine form during the symphony’s Trio section. It’s one of my great sadnesses that I was far too young to hear him live. My father, who loved Symphony No. 39, saw Brain under Beecham whose Mozart symphonies, both on Warners and Sony, are also indispensable for all kinds of reasons. The final Allegro assai brings the Symphony and this splendid disc to a triumphant breath-taking conclusion.

I am so delighted that, having wanted very much to hear this disc, it has turned out to be even more successful than I could have imagined. All three symphonies are splendid in perfect performances. Add to this that the re-mastering by Andrew Rose is a tremendous achievement. A very fine tribute to an extraordinary musician and orchestra who retain their relevance today.

David R Dunsmore

Previous review: Michael Wilkinson

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