Klemperer in Philadelphia, 1962 - second superb volume of live recordings
supreme exposition of high German romanticism without the interpretive
distortions which sometimes accompany it. Alone worth the price of the
set" - MusicWeb International
As with Volume One (PASC465), sound quality is excellent throughout this second volume. 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.
MOZART Symphony No. 41 in C major, K.551 'Jupiter'
Concert of 3 November 1962
- BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92
Concert of 3 November 1962
- BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68, 'Pastoral'
Concert of 19 October 1962
SCHUMANN Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op. 120
Concert of 27 October 1962
The Philadelphia Orchestra
Otto Klemperer, conductor
Recorded live at the Academy of Music, Philadelphia
"Rediscovered recordings recall the legacy of Otto Klemperer"
The Philadelphia Inquirer, 20 March 2016 (excerpts)
He stood before the Philadelphia Orchestra with the face of an anguished god, saying little with his partially paralyzed mouth, much through his hands, and more through his eyes — behind thick, sometimes askew glasses.
In 1962, Otto Klemperer, one of the great conductors of the 20th century, returned to the Philadelphia Orchestra after an absence of more than 25 years, having suffered a brain tumor, a stroke, severe bipolar disorder, and third-degree bums from setting himself on fire by smoking in bed.
“His beat was slurred. Definitely slurred,” recalls cellist Marcel Farago, 92, who retired from the orchestra in 1990. “But his mind was there. The conducting was there. He knew the pieces, he knew what he wanted, and he got it. Schumann [Symphony No. 4] was a cinch. Nothing to it.”
The intensity heard on a newly published live recording of the performance is terrifying. Recordings of Klemperer in Philadelphia are being issued on disc and in downloads by Pristine Classical, a European boutique label that somehow located stereo tapes and remastered them with sound quality that easily eclipses previous issues of the same performances. Only now do we have an accurate picture of a conductor who, at 77, had his share of off days but, however infirm he appeared here, was still in the Indian summer of his career.
“Generally, the tempi were very slow,” says violinist Herbert Light, 79, who played those concerts. The sunny spirits of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 (“Pastoral”) are clouded by Klemperer’s slow Philadelphia tempos, the first movement coming in at 14:10 — a minute longer than his already slow studio recording. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (“Eroica”) came with such a strong interpretive concept that some of his Philadelphia timings match his famous 1959 recording down to the second.
Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 seems to unfold in slow motion under Klemperer. With astonishing re-creative imagination, he finds deep pockets of emotional content, whether or not Bach intended them.
Even in Beethoven’s oft-heard Symphony No. 7, one hears a performance that seems to embody the decades of wartime tragedy the rest of the world was trying to forget. The single best performance is Schumann’s Symphony No. 4. Every so often in Klemperer’s live recordings, he sounds demonically possessed. This is one of those. Yannick Nézet-Séguin brought in the Schumann symphony with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe at 28:27, but Klemperer is right behind him at 28:38. He solves the problematically quiet ending of Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 elegantly — though you have to hear it to understand how he did it.
In the Philadelphia recordings — previously published under Europe’s more liberal copyright laws — Pristine’s high-quality stereo shows how the orchestra’s sound created a polished counterbalance to Klemperer’s craggy, truth-telling qualities and sustained the conductor’s tempos with a security not always heard elsewhere.
David Patrick Stearns - read the full article at Philly.com here
Reviews: MusicWeb International & Fanfare
Essential for admirers of this extraordinary musician and should appeal to anyone with an interest in the art of orchestral interpretation
In late autumn 1962, the conductor was reunited with the orchestra when he gave a series of concerts with them in Philadelphia, New York, Washington and Baltimore. The Philadelphia concerts were recorded in stereo and have now been restored by Pristine Classics and reissued in these two double-albums. The audiences were, at the very least, respectful and sometimes responded with an ovation. The critics, however, were reserved, complaining of slow tempos and a tendency to scrutinise every phrase. Winthrop Sargeant in the New Yorker put the critics' concerns into perspective. Audiences, he believed, were unaccustomed to Klemperer's style because of Toscanini's long dominance of the American orchestral scene. Klemperer's performances had 'unmistakeable grandeur' and were 'remarkable for their clarity of detail'.
(Sourced and adapted from Peter Heyworth’s Otto Klemperer – His Life and Times, CUP, 1996.)
Although more than half a century old, these performances are not period pieces. Klemperer was a modernist who championed the music of the twentieth century. Unlike many of his near-contemporaries, he did not use expressive devices like fluctuating tempos and significant instrumental ‘re-touchings’. He preferred steady tempos. The orchestral sound was big but detailed. Mannerisms were few. Liberties were very occasionally taken, mainly in the form of cuts. Surface beauty and superficial excitement alike were shunned. He was an intellectual - his command of structure was unsurpassed - but he was not interested in ‘scholarship’. His performances had honesty, integrity and power.
Pristine's sound is warm, rich and deep and, in general, well balanced. Pristine states that it used the acoustic of a fine venue to add warmth to the somewhat dry sound on the tapes. The result reproduces the famous sheen of the orchestra very well, although I would not call it a typical Klemperer sound. That was drier, grittier and more detailed — see my comments below on the recording of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. Still, these magisterial performances can be enjoyed in this sumptuous sound.
There is little in these sets which will startle those who know their Klemperer. The performances are basically iterations of the conductor's well known way with this music — all of which he had recorded for EMI a few years earlier.
In the case of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 I was initially nonplussed by the disparities in the movement timings between this performance and the conductor's EMI studio version of two years earlier. EMI's track 2 (containing the second movement Adagio) runs for 4:35 whereas Pristine's track 2 (also supposedly the Adagio) lasts 15:21. Yet the timings of the two performances of the whole concerto are within a minute or so of each other. What has happened is this: Pristine's track 2 contains not only the Adagio, but the third movement Allegro and part of the fourth movement Menuetto. The next bit of the Menuetto is found in track 3, and wrongly labelled Allegro, leaving only the last three minutes of the Menuetto to sit where it belongs - in track 4. Presumably, Pristine will correct these matters when the chance arises.
Bach's scoring for this work includes a violino piccolo (a small violin) and a harpsichord. I doubt whether Klemperer used the former in either of these recordings. He certainly used a harpsichordist (George Malcolm) in London, but I'm not at all certain he had one in Philadelphia. The balance in Philadelphia strongly favours the horns and the largish string section; the woodwinds tend to struggle. So perhaps the harpsichord was there. The horns, incidentally, are wonderfully vital and poised. The EMI recording seems to use a smaller string section and has a clearer, studio-based sound, so it feels a little more 'authentic'. The Philadelphia performance is warm with tempi expansive but steady and never metronomic. This is the one truly controversial performance in the two sets. 'Authenticists' will reject it but, even today, there are those who can revel in this more 'romantic' Bach than the one we have become used to.
Brahms, it has been said, is ‘the patron saint of those who have grown old without achieving heart's desire’ and that is plain in this Symphony No. 3. One or two of Klemperer's eminent colleagues couldn't come to terms with this symphony, but he did, and so did Bruno Walter, perhaps because of their life experiences. I compared this performance with readings by Klemperer on EMI stereo and Walter on Sony stereo. All three capture the ‘Autumnal’ yet changing moods of the symphony. Walter omits the first movement repeat without doing too much damage to the structure — he was averse to repeats — and Klemperer includes it in both performances. Walter’s more moulded approach uses basic tempos in the first three movements which are similar to Klemperer’s steadier ones on EMI, except in the Finale where Walter is brisker. Klemperer is a shade more expansive in Philadelphia than London … by about a minute and a half. Walter’s is one of the finest of his stereo recordings in terms of both performance and sound. Both the Klemperer recordings are likewise authoritative.
No conductor ever surpassed Klemperer's performances of the Egmont Overture. His approach was to use a steady tempo and build slowly to a great climax at the end. Walter, who recorded Leonore No. 3 masterfully in Vienna, sadly misjudged Egmont in his Sony recording, slowing down mid-way, then having to speed up unconvincingly later on. A special mention for Klemperer's piccolo player in Philadelphia who rightly dominates the orchestra at the end.
Some years ago on television, a conductor was seen rehearsing the Beethoven Eroica with his period instrument orchestra. He advised the players that the first movement was "like galloping horses". Those viewers who recalled that the French revolution inspired this symphony might have found that his description - and performance – did not evoke the heroic spirit of that event. They might prefer an alternative description - "massive forces in motion" – which is what Klemperer’s performances gave us. I’ve heard four of them: the Philharmonia Orchestra EMI studio productions of 1955 (mono) and 1959 (stereo), the Royal Danish Orchestra live recording of 1957 on Testament (mono) and this one with the Philadelphia Orchestra.
The Danish performance is the first choice of some listeners. It has great intensity, emphasised by the close and dryish recording, but lacks Klemperer’s characteristic spaciousness. The Funeral March is quicker than in four other famous performances I compared it with and to an extent misses its full stature. I’d guess the whole performance was a product of a manic phase of the conductor’s well-known bi-polar condition. The nearest to it in timing is the admired 1955 performance which has better sound and is better played. The superb horns are led by Dennis Brain in the third movement trio and the coda of the last movement. Its Funeral March is finer, but does not have the stature of the 1959 remake or this Philadelphia performance. Both of these offer a notably deeper and grander Funeral March.
The Philadelphia performance resembles the 1959 recording and has almost identical timings in all movements. The first movement is on the largest scale and the important thing is that it coheres, the final note envisaged, as it were, from the first. Everything leads to a great climax at the end of the movement where the trumpets, while present, do not dominate to the exclusion of other instruments. The slow movement Funeral March is immensely moving, although every performance of this piece has to yield to Toscanini's live 1939 version with the NBC Symphony Orchestra — which has almost the same timing – 16:25. This has unsurpassed tragic grandeur, accompanied by remarkable internal clarity which could only have been achieved by absolute precision; helped by the typically dry acoustic. The Philadelphia third movement is a touch stately, but of a piece with the overall conception. In the Finale, Klemperer scores — as Walter does on Sony — by getting the movement off to an arresting start without using Toscanini's whiplash attack. As this movement progresses, do I detect a little more relaxation in the quieter passages than Klemperer permits in his studio recordings? A gesture, perhaps, to a great romantic orchestra? A touch of flexibility from the podium helps the horns articulate their important part in an exciting coda whereas Toscanini’s horns sound a little rushed.
I compared this Mozart Symphony No. 41, Jupiter recording with Klemperer's two studio recordings (EMI, 1954 and 1962), Böhm (DG 1962) and Walter (US Columbia 1945, available in Pristine's 'Bruno Walter Rarities' 2015).
Klemperer's Philadelphia performance gives the work the stature of a romantic symphony, an approach which I think it can withstand. At first glance, its physical proportions seem daunting: it runs for 36:39 whereas all the other performances mentioned — including the conductor's studio recordings — run for less than half an hour. The difference is mostly explained by the fact that the Philadelphia performance is the only one that includes the repeats in both the outer movements. This adds about six minutes overall. The conductor's dramatic 1954 studio performance finds room for a repeat in the last movement, but not in the first. His 1962 studio version, and Böhm's and Walter's, omit the repeats in both movements.
It is in the first two movements that the Philadelphia reading differs significantly from most of the others. In Philadelphia, these movements are broadly paced but lack nothing in intensity. Böhm is closest to the classical ideal, dispatching both these movements swiftly in his straightforward, unmannered style. Walter is not far behind him, although his performance is more moulded, as you would expect. Klemperer in 1954 is close to Walter in overall timing, but steady in pulse and more intense, giving a heroic feel to his performance. Klemperer in his 1962 studio performance slows down by about a minute in both the movements, giving a feeling of - as the 'Gramophone' put it at the time - 'classical grace'.
If the Philadelphia audience in 1962 thought that Klemperer would drag his feet in the last two movements, they were about to be surprised. His third movement is well up to speed and actually faster than Böhm's. His speed for the Finale is broadly comparable with the other performances, allowing for his inclusion of the repeat, and, with the advantage of his unsurpassed intensity, the effect is something of a whirlwind. A satisfying conclusion.
Klemperer made four EMI studio recordings of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, if you count his 1955 mono and stereo recordings as separate productions - which they were. I've chosen the third of these - his 1960 stereo recording - as a basis for comparison. For my other comparison, I wanted a complete contrast with Klemperer’s approach - in good sound. To be slightly venturesome, I selected Carlos Kleiber’s live recording with the Bavarian State Orchestra on Orfeo, released in 1982, rather than his more famous DG studio recording from the 1970s.
Kleiber's performance is conceived in the classical, Toscanini style, with swift tempos and incisive rhythms but, with fewer repeats and even faster speeds than his DG recording, it understates a significant aspect of the score: its rustic, lyrical qualities. Bruno Walter's stereo performance on Sony captured this aspect to perfection in the first three movements, but his Finale was less satisfying in several ways. Kleiber gives unusual prominence to the cello theme heard early in the Allegretto, a device which is not entirely convincing. He omits all repeats, except in the Scherzo, and his speeds in all movements are faster than Toscanini’s in his pre-war BBC Symphony Orchestra performance (EMI also West Hill Radio Archives). In the Finale, Kleiber is half a minute faster than Toscanini. This is a significant acceleration in a seven-minute movement and frankly places physical excitement before any other qualities. The Bavarian orchestra sounds the equal of any in Europe and the sound is outstanding.
In his DG performance only, Kleiber included the repeats in both the outer movements, whereas Klemperer omitted them in both his, perhaps in recognition of the expansiveness afforded by his much slower tempos. Predictably, he obtains a much weightier and darker tone than Kleiber did.
The timings of Klemperer’s two recordings can be directly compared — due to their identical treatment of repeats — and it is interesting to note that in Philadelphia he was a minute faster than in London. Neither performance is 'the apotheosis of the dance' but the EMI performance has been called 'titanic' and that description applies even more to the one in Philadelphia. With this conductor, the excitement comes not from speed but from the intensity of the playing he obtains. Be prepared for a famous Klemperer 'ear-tickler' in the first movement's Allegro: his exaggeration of the great double hammer-blows. Some may find this a mannerism; others may guiltily look forward to it each time they hear him in this work.
There is a marked difference in the sound produced by Klemperer’s two orchestras. In London, he obtained his usual rather grainy Beethoven sound from the Philharmonia players. In Philadelphia, the orchestra - as presented by Pristine - retained its trademark tonal sheen.
To judge by the number of memorable recordings which have appeared over the last ninety years, Beethoven's Symphony No. 6, Pastoral may be the favourite symphony of the great conductors; I can think of only one significant conductor who recorded it unsatisfyingly. It was also the symphony by which many of us first experienced Beethoven's orchestral music and so has a special place in our hearts.
My own favourite versions could hardly be more different: Toscanini's pre-war recording on HMV (reissued in 2013 on EMI; also Naxos), Walter's Sony stereo and Klemperer's EMI stereo. There is a well known story that when Klemperer was rehearsing the third movement 'Peasants' Merrymaking', EMI producer Walter Legge phoned him from the control room to question his slow tempo. ‘You will get used to it’ was the laconic reply. In Philadelphia, the conductor added an extra half-minute to this movement, so these peasants are indeed heavy-footed - as some of us might expect peasants to be.
The first two movements are also slow, although the timing of 14 minutes for the Allegro is partly accounted for by Klemperer's inclusion of the repeat, which adds at least three minutes to this movement. The other two conductors omit it. Klemperer's speeds allow him to exploit to the full the orchestra's seemingly limitless tonal reserves, grounded in an immensely powerful bass. Reject his tempos if you must, but you will never hear this work more beautifully or more powerfully played. The storm is utterly overwhelming and takes only a few seconds longer than Toscanini's and Walter's. The last movement 'Thanksgiving' is unexceptionally paced and flows steadily and gently to its end.
Gentleness is a characteristic of Walter's entire recording - but it is gentleness with backbone. It's a warmly expansive, Viennese romantic interpretation with the lighter tone quality and more flexible tempos that such an approach would imply. After Walter and Klemperer, Toscanini’s account sounds almost like an 'historically informed' performance without the bugbear — as some would see it — of period instruments. Tone quality is lighter and focused on the treble end of the orchestra. Speeds are swifter. There is great internal clarity, bringing prominent woodwind detail. The most important thing is that the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Toscanini prove to be ideal foils to one another: the conductor imparts precision and rhythmic drive and the orchestra tempers these with its special warmth and flexibility. The result is a performance with a rare combination of vitality and lyricism.
My choice between the two Klemperer versions rests with the EMI studio account because of its marginally more conventional pacing; it's three minutes faster. Still, if you have any sympathy at all for the conductor's way with this symphony, you'll want to hear the incomparable sonic glories of the Philadelphia performance.
Pristine’s liner-notes quote from a recent review in the Philadelphia Inquirer in which David Patrick Stearns calls this performance of Schumann's Symphony No. 4 the 'best' among those the conductor gave in Philadelphia in 1962. Given the stature of the performance, I'd call it not merely the best, but the greatest.
Perhaps we should forget about the supposed weaknesses of this work — actually Schumann's second in order of composition — and listen to what some great German conductors make of it. I've compared this performance with the same conductor's 1960 EMI studio recording and those by Furtwängler (DG 1953 also Tahra) and Walter (HMV/Dutton 1938/94 also Guild).
Walter's performance, lasting just under 24 minutes, is far shorter than the next contender, Klemperer's studio performance, which runs for 28:25. Walter's timing reflects his omission of the first movement exposition repeat — all the other recordings retain it — but also his swift tempos. As recorded and restored, the performance has a surprising lack of impact and majesty. This may be partly or wholly due to the sound, which is rather remote and cloudy. Regardless of the reason, Walter's recording is disappointing. Perhaps a modern restoration would improve matters.
Furtwängler's recording has long been regarded as the gold standard for this work. It gives us the rare chance to hear the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra of his time in high fidelity sound. It's the most expansive of the four performances, lasting about a minute and a half longer than either of Klemperer’s performances, which run within a few seconds of each other. Furtwängler pays his tribute to Schumann by his subtle variations in tempo, his majestic treatment of the outer movements, his relative gentleness in the inner movements and his not unexpected speeding up at the conclusion of the final movement.
The two Klemperer performances are similar to each other in concept and, as mentioned above, in pacing. Tempos are not slow, and in contrast with Furtwängler, steadily maintained. Where the Philadelphia performance exceeds the studio version is in, to quote Stearns again, its 'terrifying’ intensity. The listener is confronted with a massive sound which is not static but moving inexorably forward. The final movement builds up to a conclusion of overwhelming force, eliciting shouts of acclamation from the audience. No thoughts of 'weak writing' here. This performance is a supreme exposition of high German romanticism without the interpretive distortions which sometimes accompany it. Alone worth the price of the set.
In conclusion, These two double albums will appeal strongly, not just to the conductor’s enthusiasts, but to all lovers of great conducting, effortless and sumptuous orchestral playing and ripe stereo sound. They will sustain repeated hearings. Audiences are well behaved throughout.
Rob W McKenzie
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.