[Klemperer conducting Johann Strauss]
If you think Klemperer in Johann Strauss sounds like a recipe for a wooden leg, make sure you hear these three performances. After a gruff opening, Die Fledermaus overture gets off to a delightful lilt, passing easily from point to point. There’s even the odd delayed upbeat in the waltz and an accelerando into the polka. He lets rip at the end. This is splendid enough, but the two waltzes really are wonderful … and authentic. The accredited Strauss conductor Klemperer most nearly resembles is Robert Stolz, and you can’t get much closer to the real thing than that. For Klemperer, as for Stolz, waltzes are there to be danced. You may have a delayed upbeat into them, there may be an occasional rallentando into a new section, but apart from that everything dances, elegantly but steadily. With the difference that, truth to tell, Klemperer has a lighter touch than Stolz, at least the Stolz of the last recordings, and he is a master of phrasing and balance in a way Stolz never was. So in spite of the strict dance tempo he uncovers a wealth of subtle details. An imperishable lesson in how to play Strauss (CH).
Nor need the Johann Strauss performances detain us for long. It defies conception why Walter Legge thought that Klemperer would make a good conductor in this music, which simply wilts and dies in his hands. The playing totally fails to achieve any kind of lift or Viennese lilt (Paul Corfield Godfrey).
[Klemperer conducting Tchaikovsky]
The Pathétique is no less fine, but maybe closer to the norm. … It concludes a trio of great Tchaikovsky performances, though it was the one the brought the least revelation to me, leaving me the impression that Furtwängler and maybe Mengelberg had passed this way before but not in such good sound (CH).
If the performances of the three late Tchaikovsky symphonies here had been mislaid I don’t think we would have been much the worse off. … Not only the baby, but a substantial amount of bath-water, is being summarily thrown out here. The Sixth, which seems to have been the symphony Klemperer most revered, suffers worst (Paul Corfield Godfrey).
[Klemperer conducting Bruckner 7 (EMI recording)]
The opening paragraph is actually quite promising. But Klemperer’s refusal to interpret the music, welcome enough when combined with more drive, means that a lot of the first movement lollops along amiably without generating much tension. In the second movement the ragged string attack in the first forte near the beginning, repeated in all subsequent similar passages, only confirms the suspicion that the players’ minds are not on the job. When the music changes to three-time Klemperer refuses to move forward and things get badly stuck. The slow, listless scherzo seems to stem from the desire to find a tempo which will also do for the trio. This consequently emerges faster than I’ve ever heard it and sounds amazingly humdrum. In the finale Klemperer’s droll sense of humour amuses itself at the beginning by exaggerating the rallentandos concluding the opening phrases to an almost parodistic degree. … Thereafter Klemperer goes back to sleep and the performance plods through to the bitter end. I’d swear the chorale theme is slower at the recapitulation than it was the first time round (CH).
Klemperer's recording of Bruckner 7 with the Philharmonia is a valuable document. … In the 7th, Klemperer's tempos are moderate but never sluggish, and the direct style and unglamorized nobility of expression that typify his conducting at his best are fully in evidence. …
The Philharmonia's playing is extraordinarily beautiful throughout in all departments, but the glorious wind playing is especially fine; as usual, Klemperer favors them in the balance so that they are never submerged, as so often with other conductors, in a wash of "big" string sound. Not that the strings are shortchanged: their luminous and cleanly-voiced sound is the foundation of the performance, the clarity enhanced by the divided violin seating. Klemperer is one of the relatively small number of conductors who knows how to keep the finale from seeming anticlimactic after the great Adagio; here his basic tempo is a little broader than average, giving the movement the extra weight and power that it needs. This is an indispensable performance, and should be the starting point for anyone wanting to explore Klemperer's work as a Brucknerian (Tony Movshon).
[Klemperer conducting Bruckner 9]
Three years later still and we have ultra-late Klemperer with all its attendant problems. The opening of the Ninth evolves, not so much from the mists as from a corporate attempt by the orchestra to work out what tempo he’s really going at. A blip in the horn, some ropy ensemble and patches of strident tuning remind us that the New Philharmonia in those years, lacking a real Music Director in the Szell/Reiner sense, had fallen to a level where a distinguished guest conductor actually queried whether it was a professional orchestra at all. The secondary material is didactically shaped. However, the music does settle into a majestically lumbering tempo eventually. The suspicion remains that this is not so much Klemperer’s tempo as a sort of default tempo the orchestra fell into as a result of not really being conducted at all. In the later stages Klemperer the conductor regains a measure of control, shaping some devastating climaxes that could hardly have got like that by accident.
The Scherzo is better. The tempo is by no means the slowest one has heard. It is fairly close to that adopted by Carl Schuricht, though Klemperer hammers away to more single-mindedly tragic effect. Where Schuricht relaxes affectionately during parts of the Trio – and where some conductors plough on unedifyingly in a fast tempo – Klemperer abruptly halves the tempo. An extreme solution but a curiously affecting one.
For at least the first part of the last movement, Klemperer the great conductor is once more at the helm, wringing Mahlerian intensity from the opening phrase, creating a shattering first climax and then having the strings really dig into the second theme. This overwhelming conviction isn’t quite maintained. There’s a feeling that Klemperer, having spent his physical resources on getting it well started – as he failed to do in the first movement – sat back and watched over it, so to speak, until the final wind down, which is impressively controlled. Still, the later stages of this movement are disappointing only in relation to the expectations aroused in the first paragraphs (CH).
The Ninth is another great performance; from the first bar the concentration is extraordinary and compelling, even if less atmospheric than many interpretations. The first climax is absolutely gripping, and out of it the tremolando strings and woodwind interjections edge their way forward, to be relieved by the beauties of the string writing in a gesängperiod of boldly slow articulation. As such the rich tone of the cello line makes a deeply compelling impression. This symphony has a grandeur that is unique even in Bruckner’s output, and Klemperer’s interpretation brings a special quality to it.
The middle movement scherzo is pounding and dark and very fast, while the central trio is no less intense. On the other hand the finale is broadly paced, yet full of sharply defined contrasts, and sometimes moving towards a slower Adagio pulse than Klemperer chooses elsewhere. There is an extraordinary world of visionary intensity here, and this makes the closing bars, with their resolution amid a mood of calm assurance and acceptance of fate, all the more moving (Terry Barfoot).
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