Klemperer returns after 27 years to conduct the classics in Philadelphia in 1962
"One of Klemperer’s great statements ... the Marcia Funebre, as always with Klemperer, is staggering. This is an amazing performance" - Fanfare
I'm delighted to have been able to access superb transcriptions of stereo radio master tapes in the preparation of this first of two volumes dedicated to Klemperer's autumn 1962 concerts with The Philadelphia Orchestra, a rapturously-received return to the city where he'd last conducted the orchestra in 1935 but failed in his bid to take the helm from Leopold Stokowski, that role instead going of course to Eugene Ormandy.
Indeed it would be another two decades before Klemperer's international reputation was cemented, after falling under the wing of Walter Legge and taking charge of the Philharmonia Orchestra, and then undertaking a large number of highly successful recordings for EMI. Thus did the conquering hero return to Philadelphia at the age of 77, with a short series of concerts heavy on Beethoven, with strong support from Bach, Mozart, Schumann and Brahms - sufficient to full four CDs, of which this volume offers the first two.
Sound quality is excellent throughout. I've tamed a slightly over-wide stereo image and used a light convolution reverberation derived from one of the world's foremost concert halls to bring a little extra realism to a slightly dry acoustic, whilst XR remastering has helped bring out the full warmth of the Philadlephia Orchestra's sound.
BACH Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 in F major, BWV 1046
Concert of 27 October 1962
- BRAHMS Symphony No. 3 in F major, Op. 90
Concert of 3 November 1962
- BEETHOVEN Egmont, Op. 84 - Overture
Concert of 27 October 1962
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Op. 55 'Eroica'
Concert of 19 October 1962
The Philadelphia Orchestra
Otto Klemperer, conductor
Recorded live at the Academy of Music, Philadelphia
This “Eroica” is one of Klemperer’s great statements of the work
Little did I think when I wrote of Klemperer’s Beethoven Cycle with his own (well—Walter Legge’s own) Philharmonia at the Vienna Festival in late May/early June 1960 (see Fanfare 39:5) that I would have another chance to discuss the conductor’s “Eroica” during this calendar year. Andrew Rose offers here performances many of us long devoted to the conductor have always wished to own. After Klemperer renewed his career and his fame under the aegis of EMI (and Legge) during the 1950s, he was seldom able to return to the U.S. An engagement to conduct at the Metropolitan Opera came to naught after the conductor fell asleep smoking his pipe and set his bed afire. The stalwart maestro recovered, but his concerts with the Philadelphia Orchestra represent his only time of which I am aware in this country in the 1960s, and gradually he conducted less and less outside of London.
The Pristine issue at hand is Volume 1 of Klemperer in Philadelphia. Two more CDs comprise a second volume: Mozart, Schumann, and more Beethoven. The concerts were obviously programmed to present the veteran conductor in his core repertory. I mean no discredit to Klemperer when I say that these performances are as much notable for the great orchestra as for the great conductor. I doubt he would disagree with me had he the opportunity. We have, on commercial discs and also on “pirates,” documentation of Klemperer leading many orchestras across Europe, as well as a few from his Los Angeles days in the 1930s. It is no discredit to the orchestras of Vienna, Amsterdam, and Copenhagen as well as to the Philharmonia, when I say that I hear in these collaborations with the Philadelphia Orchestra a synergy and dynamic response that define what great orchestral playing is all about.
Truth to tell, he could not have come to Philadelphia at a better post-war time. Although the great first chair players of the pre-war era had largely been replaced, those replacements positively defined the orchestra, as much as Ormandy’s famed string sonority: Gil Johnson, leading the trumpets; Mason Jones, an exceptional French horn in any era; Henry Charles Smith, heading the trombones, and generally conceded to be the greatest player on his instrument in America. I believe Ansel (also spelled Anshel) Brusilow had succeeded Jacob Krachmalnik as concertmaster by this time (to be succeeded in turn by Norman Carol).
In general, the orchestra plays for Klemperer like musicians possessed, and the conductor seems to be thoroughly engaged. The Bach is not as gripping as the rest. It sounds like a fairly good sized ensemble, and the sonics—otherwise quite amazing throughout these selections—are a bit recessed. Perhaps the microphone set-up suitable for full orchestra was less so for the smaller group. However, I have nothing but praise for what Rose has accomplished with these stereo broadcast tapes. We hear the Beethoven and Brahms, in particular, in the best possible representation of 1960s, stereo broadcast sound, and in Pristine’s XR technology, it is cleaner and has more presence, I suspect, than would have been the case at the time.
As to the performances, I am particularly fond of Klemperer’s EMI recording of the Brahms Third with the Philharmonia (also his studio recording of the Egmont with them). I still think, marginally, I prefer the last two movements of the studio recording, but the Philadelphia audience heard a magnificent Third, and the brass playing throughout is superlative. Klemperer observed the first movement exposition repeat (unlike Walter and Koussevitsky, my two favorite interpreters of this work) and that adds to the impact of this performance (as well as his recording). I suspect, had I been in the audience for this Brahms, I would have been swept away.
No question the Beethoven would have left me greatly moved. Not only the Overture, which he always did well, but this “Eroica” is one of Klemperer’s great statements of the work. His 1955 and 1959 EMI recordings are cornerstones of my record library, the 1955 disc ranks with Toscanini’s 1953 Carnegie performance and possibly Mengelberg’s 1930 recording, as my favorite(s). The 1960 Vienna performance by the Philharmonia is superb, and also his 1957 concert performance with the Royal Danish Orchestra. But he demands everything the Philadelphia has to give, and they respond to those demands in full measure. The Marcia Funebre, as always with Klemperer, is staggering. This is an amazing performance, and part of what makes it so amazing is the orchestral execution. Such playing cannot be gainsaid, nor taken for granted. Not now, not ever. The horn section, led by Jones, has to be heard to be believed. Pristine’s sonics fully reveal their magnificence. No one should be without this two-CD set.
Critics in other publications have said the Schumann Fourth in Volume 2 is the greatest performance of the work for all time. Hyperbole and panegyrics no doubt, but the quality of the playing on these two discs causes me to be eager to hear that performance, and, also the Mozart “Jupiter” contained on those discs. Where do I send my credit card information, Mr. Rose? Oh, and thanks to you and the editor for what I already have!
This article originally appeared in Issue 40:2 (Nov/Dec 2016) of Fanfare Magazine.
In October and November 1962, Otto Klemperer visited the United States for the first time in eight years, to conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra in a series of concerts in New York, Washington, and Baltimore as well as Philadelphia. The 77-year-old conductor’s physical and mental health was precarious, and during this period he suffered from severe depression. Although Klemperer had long promoted the works of Bruckner and Mahler, which still enjoyed only limited acceptance in the U.S., and had conducted much 20th-century music, he stuck close to what was then the mainstream in selecting works for this tour. The programs were heavily weighted toward Beethoven, including three of that composer’s symphonies (Nos. 3, 6, and 7) as well as the Egmont Overture, along with one work each of J. S. Bach, Mozart, Schumann, and Brahms.
According to the account in Peter Heyworth’s biography of the conductor, critical response to these performances was lukewarm, but audiences were more enthusiastic. Klemperer later criticized the orchestra in an interview, claiming that it was not as good as it had been when he conducted it decades earlier, near the end of Stokowski’s tenure. I find it difficult to understand his dissatisfaction, as the playing on these discs is for the most part excellent, barring a few minor mishaps that are to be expected in a live performance, and the resulting performances are characteristic Klemperer. They display in abundance his typical concern for structure, phrasing, rhythmic precision, and balances; his ability to generate tremendous momentum at a comparatively deliberate pace; his probing for inner voices; and his striving to reveal each strand of the musical fabric distinctly, rather than in a homogenized blend. Not everyone, it must be acknowledged, responds to the Klemperer style. Not too long ago, I was taken aback when an esteemed Fanfare colleague informed me that he “hated” several of Klemperer’s widely praised studio recordings. In reviews of these concerts, critics often objected to the slow tempos, and although it is a myth that Klemperer was always a slow conductor, the tempos in these performances are often quite deliberate even by comparison with a good many other Klemperer recordings of the same works. There is, however, nothing here that is outlandishly slow, as is the case with some of the performances he recorded for EMI at the very end of his career, such as the Bruckner Eighth and Mahler Seventh symphonies. A critic reviewing one of the Philadelphia Orchestra concerts complained that every note “was inspected, mulled over….Every phrase was … viewed through an aural telescope.” This comment is a pejorative description of a phenomenon I view as positive.
Although there was a trend toward slower tempos in Klemperer’s performances as he aged, the progression was not linear. For instance, the tempo in the first movement of this Philadelphia performance of Mozart’s “Jupiter” Symphony is more deliberate than in Klemperer’s 1968 live recording with the Vienna Philharmonic (Testament) as well as his 1954 and 1962 EMI studio recordings. As the movement begins, I am thinking, “This is too slow.” But as the momentum builds, driven by forceful accents, incisive rhythm, and precise chording, I am soon captivated by the monumental grandeur of this conception. Grandeur is surely an essential element of the “Jupiter,” and it doesn’t get any grander than this. After a while, the tempo no longer seems slow at all. (Klemperer observes the exposition repeat in both concert performances but not in the EMI recordings.) The tempo in the second movement differs little from that of the 1962 EMI recording or the Vienna performance, although it is certainly deliberate by conventional standards. The playing evinces thoughtful, sensitive shaping by Klemperer and reminds us that his tempo control, although generally firm and unified, is by no means rigid. The pace in the Menuetto is similar to that in the later EMI recording, expansive and grand but also kinetic, with more emphatic downbeats in the Philadelphia rendition. The finale is bracing, comparable in tempo to the 1954 EMI recording. The vertical stresses are again stronger in the Philadelphia performance, rendering the movement all the more majestic and heroic.
The movement timings in the Philadelphia performance of Beethoven’s “Eroica” are similar to those of the 1959 EMI stereo recording. Those, along with a 1958 live performance with the Stockholm Philharmonic (Medici Masters), are the most expansive among the eight Klemperer performances I compared. The 1960 live performance with the Philharmonia Orchestra in Vienna (Music and Arts) and the 1963 performance with the Vienna Symphony (Orfeo) are faster, once again illustrating the non-linearity in the evolution of Klemperer’s tempo choices. The fastest of all, however, is a 1957 performance with the Royal Danish Orchestra (Testament). Of the three most expansive performances, I find the Philadelphia one the most persuasive. The Swedish orchestra plays well, but without the refinement or tonal weight and allure of the Philadelphians, who also surpass Klemperer’s own Philharmonia Orchestra, performing under studio conditions, in commitment and intensity. In the Philadelphia performance, stresses are more forceful, climaxes more towering, and tension and momentum better sustained. The Marcia funebre is especially grim and cataclysmic. With its spaciousness, clarity, and bass definition, the Philadelphia recording is superior in capturing the polyphony of the Klemperer sound. This is not an impetuous performance, but it is a majestic and surely heroic one.
The “Pastoral” is from the same October 19 concert as the “Eroica,” the first concert of the Philadelphia series. It is the slowest of the seven Klemperer recordings of this symphony in my possession in all movements, and significantly so in the first three. The Philadelphia timing in the first movement (corrected to eliminate the pause between movements) is 14:06, as opposed to 13:00–13:17 for the three Klemperer recordings chronologically closest to this one, the 1957 EMI recording, the 1960 Vienna Festival performance with the Philharmonia Orchestra (Music and Arts), and the 1964 live performance with the Berlin Philharmonic (Testament). (In all of his recorded performances of the “Pastoral,” Klemperer observes the exposition repeat.) As with the “Jupiter,” my initial reaction was that the tempo is too slow, but with time I find more to appreciate in this grand, monumental treatment, which builds a massive forward impetus despite the deliberate pace. Other positive attributes include soaring climaxes, insistent stresses, rich string sound, open texture, and sculpted detail. The second movement possesses many of those same virtues, although with a timing a half-minute longer than in the EMI recording, it is comparatively serene and quiescent, without the lyrical flow of that account or the more fervent expressivity of the 1960 Vienna performance. The third movement relies on forceful accents and tonal weight rather than urgent forward movement for its energy, and its momentum once again builds gradually. But Klemperer then conjures quite a raging storm, proving once again that he could in fact conduct at a fast tempo when he so desired. With a timing only marginally longer than that of the EMI recording, the finale is urgent and fervent, once again with especially insistent stresses. The deliberate tempos in this performance will no doubt try the patience of some listeners, and for them the EMI recording or the Vienna Festival performance, with its more urgent pacing, joyful exuberance, and very good mono sound, would be better choices, but I value the Philadelphia account, especially for its rich, realistic orchestral sound and abundant instrumental detail.
The Seventh Symphony receives a titanic performance, with towering climaxes. It is similar in outline to the second of Klemperer’s three EMI studio recordings, but a bit quicker in all movements and with the added charge of a live concert event. The first movement advances at a deliberate pace by conventional standards but with inexorable force, enhanced by emphatic rhythm and powerful bass presence and definition. The Allegretto proceeds with the measured tread of a majestic funeral march. The scherzo is kinetic but unhurried, and the finale, pace Wagner, is more triumphal and exultant than dance-like. This is not the swifter, lighter-weight Beethoven favored by many of today’s conductors, under the influence of “historically informed” practices, but it is in my view superb Beethoven.
At 9:50, the timing of the Philadelphia performance of the Egmont Overture is the longest of five recorded performances by Klemperer. Most performances by other conductors take between eight and nine minutes, as Klemperer himself did in the earliest of his recordings, from 1927, with the Berlin State Opera Orchestra (Archiphon). But this Philadelphia performance is of extraordinary force and power, exemplifying Klemperer’s aforementioned ability to generate tremendous momentum at a relatively deliberate tempo. If anything, this performance has even greater thrust than the somewhat faster EMI studio recording of 1957, by virtue of its still more emphatic stresses, greater tonal weight, and stronger bass presence.
Judging by the number of recordings that have surfaced, Klemperer apparently performed the symphonies of Schumann and Brahms much less often than those of Beethoven. There are only two recordings of the Schumann Fourth, this Philadelphia performance and the EMI studio recording of 1960. Both are excellent, displaying the characteristic Klemperer virtues. Tempos in both are mainstream, not slow. The Philadelphia performance is actually a bit quicker in the first movement, if a trace slower in the inner ones.
In addition to the 1957 EMI studio recording, there are two other live recordings of the Brahms Third by Klemperer. He programed the work for his final concert of September 26, 1971, with the New Philharmonia Orchestra, issued by Testament. Although retaining vestiges of the characteristic Klemperer style, this performance, by far the slowest of the lot, bears sad witness to the decline of his powers and the wisdom of his decision to give up conducting at that point, at age 86, two years before his death. The brisk 1956 performance with the Vienna Symphony (Orfeo) will come as a surprise to those who think Klemperer was always a slow conductor. The EMI and Philadelphia recordings fall in between those extremes in terms of tempo, but both have the continuity and consistency of pulse that I associate with Klemperer. The Philadelphia performance is a bit more expansive but amply kinetic in the first movement, with a more yielding treatment of the second subject. As usual, the Philadelphia recording offers a richer string sound and more prominent bass. Klemperer’s insistence on an open and transparent sound is especially beneficial to the dense Brahmsian textures. As in all his recorded performances of this work, Klemperer observes the exposition repeat. In the second movement, the timings of the EMI and Philadelphia recordings are identical, but the former is steady and serene, while the latter is a bit more flexible and yielding. There is also little difference in tempo between the two performances in the third movement, but the Philadelphia performance again feels a bit looser and more flexible. Like the first movement, the finale is more expansive in the Philadelphia performance, but stronger stresses and explosive climaxes give it added power. The slow coda, however, is better controlled in the EMI recording.
The one truly questionable performance in these sets is that of the Bach Brandenburg Concerto. Klemperer was one of the few conductors of his generation who could turn out a convincing performance of Baroque music, but this one is not a success. The slow tempos don’t work here. The rhythm is lumbering, the balance bass-heavy, and the textures uncharacteristically congested. There is also some shaky ensemble and surprisingly ungainly playing by members of the orchestra. Despite poor sound and some scrappy playing, Klemperer did much better in his crisp and brisk 1946 Vienna recording for Vox. A later Vienna performance, this time with the Philharmonic, from the 1968 Vienna Festival (Testament), is much more deliberate than the Vox recording, but not so heavy-handed as the Philadelphia one and better played than both. The 1960 EMI studio recording with the Philharmonia Orchestra is one of the few Klemperer recordings I don’t have.
This is not the first appearance of Klemperer’s Philadelphia concerts on CD, as they were issued several years ago on the Memories label, although that release gives different dates for some of the performances, and it is not certain that the exact same performances are involved. There were earlier CD issues of some of the performances as well, and prior to that airchecks of them circulated in the tape underground. But the Pristine versions far surpass those on Memories, as well as the tapes I have, in sound quality. They reproduce the sound of the orchestra with startling realism, far more than one would expect from a 1962 radio broadcast, excelling in spaciousness, detail, and bass presence and definition. I do hear touches of congestion in some peaks, however.
These sets are treasurable documents of a great conductor in concert with one of the greatest American orchestras. They are essential for admirers of this extraordinary musician and should appeal to anyone with an interest in the art of orchestral interpretation.
This article originally appeared in Issue 40:2 (Nov/Dec 2016) of Fanfare Magazine.