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J.S. BACH: Four Orchestral Suites. HANDEL: Concerto Grosso in A minor. RAMEAU: Gavotte with 6 variations. GLUCK: 'Iphigenie en Aulide' - Overture. CHERUBINI: 'Anacreon' - Overture. Philhrmonia Orchestra/New Philharmonia Orchestra Otto Klemperer. Testament mono/stereo SBT2131 140m ADD. (Rec.: 1954-69)



Klemperer in Bach may seem to be a recipe for outdated, old-fashioned styles of performance, but the buoyant and bubbly effervescence of these early 1954 Suites may win over more studiously stuck-up converts. Although the full body of strings and occasionally over-plush phrasing may point to an older school of Bach performances, there is no denying the effect Klemperer gets out of his gifted players. These Suites are basically lengthy French overtures with short dance movements rounding off proceedings in the form of a ballet. Klemperer is sound and studious in the first overture and the clear recordings come up quite well for their vintage. Indeed one listens to wind and strings in perfect delineation whilst the delicate harpsichord is a constant though occasionally unnerving companion. The Second suite contains much similar music with a slightly longer overture, similarly scored for strings and winds without percussion.

The Philharmonia play with plush romantic sensitivity but the ultra-slow tempi sound a mite too ponderous here. However I enjoyed the Menuet and Badinerie that conclude the suite in typical Bachian fashion. With the Third and Fourth Suites we are on more pompous and grand ground, something which suited Klemperer's grave and portentous manner no end. The Overtures to theses works include timpani and they make a wonderfully celebratory sound, vindicating the use of modern instruments for Bach works. I have to take Klemperer to task for playing the Air at 6'08, but surely isn't he allowed a bit of a lingering over this lovely music?

Although the Fourth Suite is less well known, I would definitely place it at the top of the pile, as it is also a personal favorite. Grand manner dominates the imposing Overture whilst the shorter movements contain much that is pensive and beautiful. Klemperer's tortoise like-way with the music may not appeal to some, but as an expert Bachian, his interpretation is definitely one to savour. Alan Sanders mentions that Klemperer's reverence for Handel was of a much lesser degree than that lavished on Bach and it is understandable that this Concerto Grosso would be slightly unconvincing. It reminded me of Karl Richter's similarly old-fashioned accounts on Archiv and is thus included for curiosity purposes only. The indifferent early stereo EMI studio recording does not help matters either.

Another composer who occasionally featured in Klemperer's concerts was Jean Philippe Rameau, indeed the conductor had a marked preference for the Gavotte with 6 variations and he himself orchestrated it and recorded it in 1969, at the twilight of his life. This nostalgic and historical performance comes through with sentimental pangs of humorism and one marvels at the flair and wit of these variations.

Spirited performances of Gluck's 'Iphigenie en Aulide' and Cherubini's 'Anacreon' conclude this baroque package. The latter is an unpublished recording and thanks to some skilful editing a previous blemish has been removed, thus making the recording ripe for reissue! A mixed bag then but definitely worth investigating if you are on the curious side and have an affection for the past.


Gerald Fenech


Gerald Fenech

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