Klemperer's classic Beethoven Symphony Cycle: The final set, Nos 7-9
"The performance is as great as anything one is likely to hear in this world" - The Gramophone
REVIEW Beethoven Symphony No. 9
Here is the much anticipated Klemperer Ninth. So many readers will have heard him conduct this in the concert hall or on the radio, or will at any rate know his way with Beethoven from other records, that it seems hardly necessary to describe the result in much detail - it is so obviously going to be a great Beethoven interpretation. And so, indeed, it is, with the Columbia technical staff all out, too, to make the result a success.
But although we may know conductor and orchestra, there are two less predictable participants in this perfonnance, the soloists and the Philharmonia Chorus (who here make their debut on records). Soloists, bless their hearts (or, curse them, according to your mood) are seldom predictable. The best known of this quartet is Hans Hotter, a fine singer and artist indeed, but singing his opening recitative in a manner that will distress many sensitive ears. I f only, one feels, he had concentrated less on expressing the message of the words and more on singing each note well in tune, for he pushes some very sharp. Later, when he is mainly engaged in quartet work, his contribution is excellent.
The rest are efficient without being remarkable, good enough, at any rate, not to let things down. The soprano, Aase Nordmo Løvberg, does her difficult job pretty well, though she tends to force the pace a bit at the start and her final top B is precise rather than particularly beautifulnothing like Schwarzkopf's in her performance with Furtwangler. Christa Ludwig fills her less exacting role well and Waldemar Kmentt is perfectly adequate, if not remarkable. Whether he has a ringing top B flat, by the way, one cannot tell, for the chorus covers him when he should come out with it.
The Philharmonia Chorus is splendid. Bright tone, incisive attack, boundless energy and all the sustained power you could wish for- the sopranos' long f f top A at the end of "der ganzen Welt" section is as thrilling as the subsequent pp chords from the whole chorus ("muss ein lieber Vater wohnen").
I said that there was little need to describe Klemperer's interpretation, but that will not prevent me, like Saki's boring Stephen Thorle, from doing so! It is a performance which leaves you at the end with the feeling that every performance of the Ninth should give, that you have been through a spiritual experience of overwhelming greatness. It is of a quality that I think no other living conductor could give. And, different as Klemperer is from Toscanini, the two have certain things in common. The astonishing attention to detail, the gift ofilluminating the significance of some detail of orchestration that had escaped one's attention before: and (which I think Klemperer has in even greater degree) the achievement of an orchestral balance that gives lucidity of a kind rarely heard. (Those close-packed imitative entries in the first movement, bars 427 to 452, have surely never been so clearly heard.)
The first movement is immensely powerful, but impressed me most of all by the way Klemperer seizes upon and conveys the essential atmosphere of every part of it, especially those pp passages of indescribable mystery. The Scherzo, with the Philharmonia playing the softest sections with astonishing delicacy, may seem a little steady and cautious in comparison with other conductors' performances, but it is, in fact, taken at about Beethoven's metronome mark. (Weingartner's speed was only slightly faster, but Toscanini's a good deal more so and gave, therefore, an entirely different feeling to the whole movement.) But Klemperer is a great respecter of the score and, by the way, is one of the few to observe the repeat of the second section of this movement. The slow movement, with a wonderfully rapt meaa voce from the strings, is surely all that one could wish for and a momentary lapse of ensemble between violas and woodwind at one point is insignificant beside the satisfying beauty of all the playing.
This, then is a great experience to hear.
TH, The Gramophone, November 1958 (Review of first LP issue)
The Klemperer 9th in stereo at last -months after its scheduled release date and a full year after its mono issue. Readers may speculate as to why those who have been enterprising enough to equip them.selves into a stereo set-up should have been made to wait so long. However, I hope they have not given in and bought the mono records, for the stereo is undoubtedly much superior and it is, in fact, the sort of recording of this work I have been waiting for.
I put on the finale straightway (on the principle that we all know E.M.I. can record an orchestra well enough) and immediately began to think that this sounded more like a real performance than any record of a choral work I had ever heard. All the adjectives with which everyone describes stereo came to mind (I'm sure you know them by now) and the advantage in the reproduction of this array of soloists, chorus and orchestra is great indeed.
Direct comparison with the mono sound was difficult because the two are recorded at very different levels (the stereo lower) and one had to keep finding an equal volume before any true judgment of the impact of the chorus or the climaxes was possible. But my main impression was of the way the stereo sound laid out the forces before me in a wide arc, with the orchestra more consistently clear against the chorus than ever before. This spaciousness of the music is the greatest gain.
Balance is very good, though sometimes different from that of the mono records. For a year I have been going about saying that nobody makes the trumpets ring out in the choral part of the 6/8 section as Klemperer does and how wonderful that is. Well, he doesn't in stereo! And what he really does one could only discover by hearing a live performance. Which just shows how much we are at the mercy of the technicians.
The performance is as great as anything one is likely to hear in this world. If I criticised any points in my earlier review, they were of little account in relation to the whole---except, perhaps, Hotter's singing of his opening passage. (If only Columbia had D.G.G.'s Fischer-Dieskau).
Readers should notice that this stereo recording takes four sides and that the Egmont side of the mono has disappeared. When I consider the quality of what we are given and compare it with the lack of quality in D.G.G.'s three-sided version, I can't really regret the Egmont loss. There is absolutely no question of which to choose between the two, for both immensity of performance and fineness of recording.
TH, The Gramophone, December 1959 (Review of first stereo LP issue)
Notes on the recordings:
As with the previous releases in this series, I came to the original EMI recordings full of admiration. Consistently well-made and of this highest technical quality for their era, one wonders what benefits might arise from applying XR remastering to them? And then I hear the results - and suddenly those 1950s recordings don't sound so good after all in comparison! This is therefore a project dedicated to extracting the finest sound possible from a very accomplished working base. It is something I believe is as valid for well-known, well-made recordings of the past as it is for the rarer and more troublesome recordings I also work with.
This presents Klemperer at his very best; he can now be heard in unprecedented sound quality, significantly improving on all previous issues.
Biographical notes from Wikipedia
Otto Klemperer was born in Breslau, Silesia Province, then in Germany (now Wrocław, Poland), as a son of Nathan Klemperer, a native of Prague, Bohemia (today's Czech Republic). Klemperer studied music first at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt, and later at the Stern Conservatory in Berlin under James Kwast and Hans Pfitzner. He followed Kwast to three institutions and credited him with the whole basis of his musical development. In 1905 he met Gustav Mahler while conducting the off-stage brass at a performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 2, Resurrection. He also made a piano reduction of the second symphony. The two men became friends, and Klemperer became conductor at the German Opera in Prague in 1907 on Mahler's recommendation. Mahler wrote a short testimonial, recommending Klemperer, on a small card which Klemperer kept for the rest of his life. Later, in 1910, Klemperer assisted Mahler in the premiere of his Symphony No. 8, Symphony of a Thousand.
Klemperer went on to hold a number of positions, in Hamburg (1910–1912); in Barmen (1912–1913); the Strasbourg Opera (1914–1917); the Cologne Opera (1917–1924); and the Wiesbaden Opera House (1924–1927). From 1927 to 1931, he was conductor at the Kroll Opera in Berlin. In this post he enhanced his reputation as a champion of new music, playing a number of new works, including Janáček's From the House of the Dead, Schoenberg's Erwartung, Stravinsky's Oedipus rex, and Hindemith's Cardillac.
In 1933, once the Nazi Party had reached power, Klemperer, who was Jewish, left Germany and moved to the United States. Klemperer had previously converted to Catholicism, but returned to Judaism at the end of his life. In the U.S. he was appointed Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He took United States citizenship in 1937. In Los Angeles, he began to concentrate more on the standard works of the Germanic repertoire that would later bring him greatest acclaim, particularly the works ofBeethoven, Brahms and Mahler, though he gave the Los Angeles premieres of some of fellow Los Angeles resident Arnold Schoenberg's works with the Philharmonic. He also visited other countries, including England and Australia. While the orchestra responded well to his leadership, Klemperer had a difficult time adjusting to Southern California, a situation exacerbated by repeated manic-depressive episodes, reportedly as a result of severe cyclothymic bipolar disorder. He also found that the dominant musical culture and leading music critics in the United States were largely out of sympathy with his Weimar modernism and he felt he was not properly valued.
Klemperer hoped for a permanent position as lead conductor in New York or Philadelphia. But in 1936 he was passed over in both - first in Philadelphia, where Eugene Ormandy succeeded Leopold Stokowski at the Philadelphia Orchestra, and then in New York, where Arturo Toscanini's departure left a vacancy at the New York Philharmonicbut John Barbirolli and Artur Rodzinski were engaged in preference to Klemperer. The New York decision was particularly galling, as Klemperer had been engaged to conduct the first fourteen weeks of the New York Philharmonic's 1935-6 season. Klemperer's bitterness at this decision was voiced in a letter he wrote to Arthur Judson, who ran the orchestra: "that the society did not reengage me is the strongest offense, the sharpest insult to me as artist, which I can imagine. You see, I am no youngster. I have a name and a good name. One could not use me in a most difficult season and then expell me. This non-reengagement will have very bad results not only for me in New York but in the whole world... This non-reengagement is an absolutely unjustified wrong done to me by the Philharmonic Society."
Then, after completing the 1939 Los Angeles Philharmonic summer season at the Hollywood Bowl, Klemperer was visiting Boston and was diagnosed with a brain tumor; the subsequent brain surgery to remove "a tumour the size of a small orange" left him partially paralyzed. He went into a depressive state and was placed in institution; when he escaped, The New York Times ran a cover story declaring him missing, and after being found in New Jersey, a picture of him behind bars was printed in the Herald Tribune. Though he would occasionally conduct the Philharmonic after that, he lost the post of Music Director. Furthermore, his erratic behavior during manic episodes made him an undesirable guest to US orchestras, and the late flowering of his career centered in other countries.
After World War II, Klemperer returned to Europe to work at the Budapest Opera (1947–1950). Finding Communist rule in Hungary increasingly irksome, he became an itinerant conductor, guest conducting the Royal Danish Orchestra, Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra, Concertgebouw Orchestra, and thePhilharmonia of London.
In the early 1950s Klemperer experienced difficulties arising from his U.S. citizenship. American union policies made it difficult for him to record in Europe, while his left wing views made him increasingly unpopular with the State Department and FBI: in 1952 the United States refused to renew his passport. In 1954 Klemperer again returned to Europe, and acquired a German passport.
His career was turned around in 1954 by the London-based producer Walter Legge, who recorded Klemperer in Beethoven, Brahms and much else with his hand-picked orchestra, the Philharmonia, for the EMI label. He became the first principal conductor of the Philharmonia in 1959. He settled in Switzerland. Klemperer also worked at theRoyal Opera House Covent Garden, sometimes stage-directing as well as conducting, as in a 1963 production of Richard Wagner's Lohengrin. He also conducted Mozart'sThe Magic Flute there in 1963.
A severe fall during a visit to Montreal forced Klemperer subsequently to conduct seated in a chair. A severe burning accident further paralyzed him, which resulted from his smoking in bed and trying to douse the flames with the contents of a bottle of spirits of camphor nearby. Through Klemperer's problems with his health, the tireless and unwavering support and assistance of Klemperer's daughter Lotte was crucial to his success.
One of his last concert tours was to Jerusalem. Klemperer had performed in Palestine before the state of Israel declared its independence, and returned to Jerusalem only in 1970 to conduct the Israeli Broadcasting Authority Symphonic Orchestra in two concerts, performing the six Brandenburg Concerti of Bach, and Mozart's symphonies 39, 40 and 41. During this tour he took Israeli citizenship. He retired from conducting in 1971.
Klemperer died in Zürich, Switzerland in 1973, aged 88, and was buried in Zürich's Israelitischer Friedhof-Oberer Friesenberg. In his later years, he had become increasingly worried about the influence of Jewish fundamentalism in Israel, and about Israel's foreign policies.
He was an Honorary Member (HonRAM) of the Royal Academy of Music.
His son, Werner Klemperer, was an actor and became known for his portrayal of Colonel Klink on the US television show Hogan's Heroes. The diarist Victor Klemperer was a cousin; so were Georg Klemperer and Felix Klemperer, who were famous physicians.
Klemperer is less well known as a composer, but he wrote a number of pieces, including six symphonies, a Mass, nine string quartets, many lieder and the opera Das Ziel. He seldom performed any of these himself and they have generally fallen into neglect since his death, although his works have received the occasional commercial recording.
Many listeners associate Klemperer with slow tempos, but recorded evidence now available on compact disc shows that in earlier years his tempi could be quite a bit faster; the late recordings give a misleading impression. For example, one of Klemperer's most noted performances was of Beethoven's Symphony No. 3, Eroica. Eric Grunin'sEroica Project contains tempo data on 363 recordings of the work from 1924–2007, and includes 10 by Klemperer - some recorded in the studio, most from broadcasts of live concerts. The earliest Klemperer performance on tape was recorded in concert in Köln in 1954 (when he was 69 years old); the last was in London with the New PhilharmoniaOrchestra in 1970 (when he was 85). The passing years show a clear trend with respect to tempo: as Klemperer aged, he took slower tempi. In 1954, his first movement lasts 15:18 from beginning to end; in 1970 it lasts 18:41. In 1954 the main tempo of the first movement was about 135 beats per minute, in 1970 it had slowed to about 110 beats per minute. In 1954, the Eroica second movement, "Funeral March", had a timing of 14:35; in 1970, it had slowed to 18:51. Similar slowings took place in the other movements. Around 1954, Herbert von Karajan flew especially to hear Klemperer conduct a performance of the Eroica, and later he said to him: "I have come only to thank you, and say that I hope I shall live to conduct the Funeral March as well as you have done".
Similar, if less extreme, reductions in tempi can be noted in many other works for which Klemperer left multiple recordings, at least in recordings from when he was in his late 70s and his 80s. For example:
(a) the Symphony No. 38 ("Prague") of Mozart, another Klemperer specialty. In his concert recording from December 1950 (when he was 65 years old) with theRIAS Berlin Orchestra the timings are I. 9:45 (with repeat timing omitted; the performance actually does take the repeat); II. 7:45; and III. 5.24. In his studio March, 1962 recording of the same work with the Philharmonia (recorded when he was 77 years old), the timings are notably slower: I. 10:53 (no repeat was taken); II. 8.58; III. 6:01. Unlike the late Eroica, the 1962 Prague is not notably slow; rather, the 1950 recording is much faster than most recordings of the work, even by "historically informed" conductors.
(b) The Anton Bruckner Symphony no. 4 (Haas edition with emendations). A 1947 concert recording with Concertgebouw Orchestra has timings of I. 14:03; II. 12:58; III. 10:11; and IV. 17.48. The studio recording with the Philharmonia from 1963 has timings of I. 16:09; II; 14:00; III. 11.48; IV. 19:01. Again, the 1963 is not a notably slow performance, but the 1947 was quick. The March 1951 recording with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra was even quicker: I. 13:26; II. 11:56; III. 9:22; IV. 16:30.
(c) The Mahler Symphony No. 7, recorded by Angel Records."Thus, as you listen to this performance, it seems... to enclose you within its own world of evocative sound, a world that echoes... the world we may know, but remains a world transformed by imagination, remote, and complete within itself."
Regardless of tempo, Klemperer's performances often maintain great intensity. Eric Grunin, in a commentary on the "opinions" page of his Eroica Project, notes: "....The massiveness of the first movement of the Eroica is real, but is not its main claim on our attention. That honor goes to its astonishing story (structure), and what is to me most unique about Klemperer is that his understanding of the structure remains unchanged no matter what his tempo..."
Notes from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otto_Klemperer