New Klemperer releases on EMI

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New Klemperer releases on EMI

I recently got the new box sets released by EMI of Klemperer's Beethoven and Bruckner recordings. In the past, I had resisted exploring Klemperer's oeuvre having formed the impression (which I now think is false) that his conducting was slow and ponderous. His Bruckner 4 moves at a fair speed and his pacing of the Beethoven symphonies does not seem ponderous at all compared to Thielemann and Barenboim, it just sounds magisterial. In the clarity of his articulation and balances he is comparable to Gunter Wand. I would be most interested to know what others feel about his conducting.  Anand

 

RE: New Klemperer releases on EMI

Interesting comment, Anand. The Klemperer Bruckner 4 is one of my favourites and years ago I would have said his Beethoven was too slow but now I am very taken with it. Whether it's because I'm now older, maybe,  but I think it's also my reaction to my dislike of period instrument performances at sometimes ludicrously fast speeds which rob the music of its power and gravitas. I still have great affection for the Schmidt-Issersedt VPO recordings, perhaps because that's the first complete set of Beethoven symphonies that I bought.

The clarity and balance of Klemperer's recordings is excellent and like Boult & Monteux he was one of the few conductors of the time to use antiphonal 1st & 2nd violins. He seems to get a unique sound from the Philharmonia. 

RE: New Klemperer releases on EMI

What I find fascinating about Klemperer is his modernist background. He started as a conductor of avant-garde music: Schönberg, Hindemith... I guess he more than once had to dodge tomatoes and silence hecklers.
It's nice that his entry in the EMI "Greatest conductors" series focuses on this often neglected part of K.'s repertoire, instead of chosing some of the familiar warhorses.

You can still taste his modernist method of music-making in his later, more traditionalist repertoire. That's always a good thing in, say, Beethoven: a conductor who realizes music history didn't end on new year's eve, 1899 - and emphazizes the modern, revolutionary aspects of B.'s style.

Take a conductor like Haitink, who hardly ever conducted modern music, and who more than once expressed his dislike of it. I find his Beethoven, Mahler and Bruckner infinitely less interesting than Klemperer's, since he approaches the music from the opposite side: the 19th century and choses to emphasize the traditional elements in these composers' pieces.

You mentioned Chailly already - to me he's one of Klemperer's spiritual successors. The contrast between his and Haitink's Mahler (with the same orchestra, the CGO) couldn't be bigger - and I very much prefer Chailly's.

Not everything that Klemperer touched turned into gold, but his best recordings are truly amazing, exactly because of this personal approach he applied to every piece he conducted.

RE: New Klemperer releases on EMI

Thanks for that link 50m.  I don't have that Amsterdam performance.  I keep hoping that the whole cycle he gave in Amsterdam at that time will appear. I will listen tonight (assuming internet is running well). My favourite amongst the many Klemperer 9ths I do have is the Cologne Radio one from 1955. (The CD has a rehearsal with the choir and Klemperer sings the bass solo!  The 1964 Royal Albert Hall performance (New Philharmonia) on DVD  is also superb - both of them more vital than the studio recording.

Chris

 

 

Chris A.Gnostic

RE: New Klemperer releases on EMI

Great conductor beyond any doubt. However, a bit stiff in some works (Mendelssohn, Schumann, Bach), less flexible (Mahler) and too heavy (Mozart who sounds like he drags his heel, of course, in a magnificent, albeit pompous way).

However, some of his recordings are reference ones, particularly in Beethoven.

Parla

RE: New Klemperer releases on EMI

One could say he lacked the frivolity and elegance needed to conduct Mozart or Mendelssohn succesfully. And his Bach, as monumental as it may be, is overtaken by the historical correct performances of today and condemned to a place in the "anachronistic curiosities" department, alas.

However, I don't agree with your verdict on his Mahler. After all, he was Mahler's assistant, and together with Walter and Mengelberg he's the best qualified conductor to conduct Mahler in a truly "authentic" way, that is, using first-hand knowledge. Mahler even heard the young Klemperer conducting his 2nd (in Berlin, 1905!)

Of course it doesn't always work that way and the student's style isn't always a carbon copy of the master's. If you take Mahler's 4th, Mengelberg's, Walter's and Klemperer's versions couldn't be more different, stylistically.

Still I think of Klemperer as a great Mahler conductor, even if I value his Bruckner even higher. His 2nd and "Lied" are usually ranked among the best in the catalogue.

RE: New Klemperer releases on EMI

I said for Klemperer's Mahler that it is "less flexible", not inferior or mediocre. I can, somehow, always feel a kind of stiffness, which, however, does not deprive him from being even brilliant at times.

I can fully subscribe to his Second and Das Lied von der Erde as well.

Parla

RE: New Klemperer releases on EMI

I listened for the first time last night to Klemperer's EMI recording of Mahler's, so called slightly odd, seventh symphony. It was a revelation,and me, so I thought not a great Mahler fan.The music as conducted by Klemperer completely overwhelmed me. That the sound from the Kingsway Hall was fantastic,one of EMI's best,had little bearing on the evenings enjoyment.It was the conducting of Klemperer (with a little help from Mahler) that achieved that.

RE: New Klemperer releases on EMI

Much agreement to be found here. I agree with Parla: flexible and Klemperer don't belong in the same sentence! Obstinate, indominable are words that come more to mind, and ensure that feeling that from the first bar he (and we) know where he's going. And yet, his Mahler is, for me superb. I think 50m is absolutely right in drawing attention to Klemperer's 'modernist' approach.  Unlike Haitink or Walter, Klemperer's Mahler looks forward to Berg and beyond. To my ears at least it is more modern sounding even that Pierre Boulez's.

And History Man, I completely second your comments on Klemperer's Mahler 7th. Both with Mahler and Bruckner (the 6th) it is often in the works most difficult to bring off where Klemperer triumphs above all (or most) others. Also with Brahms 3rd, the most elusive of his symphonies.

Even when his interpretations are only partially successful, I often have the feeling of an imperfect performance, a sketch perhaps, of a greater work than I had previously realised, if that makes any sense! It applies especially to some of his later recordings.

Thanks 50m for the recommendation of the Concertgebouw Beethoven 9th.  I've downloaded it. Very impressive, along with my favourite Cologne performance, and the fastest of all the six I have!

Chris

 

Chris A.Gnostic

RE: I sampled bits of Klemperer's

What a performance indeed 50m! It is indeed slow but, as you suggest, Klemperer's involvement with the first performance must have given him insight into what Mahler wanted. Alma Mahler wrote "Several youthful musicians, Alban Berg, Bodanzky, Heussler, Klemperer, they all helped [Mahler] revise the orchestration and to copy the parts". Klemperer himself however insisted that though he would gladly have helped, "the composer would have none of it and did it all himself." In any event he was heavily involved in that first performance and the only one of them to have recorded it! 

Both the fourth and the ninth are superb performances too! Not so slow as the 7th!

I listened again properly to the Amsterdam 9th yestersay. Superb, much more 'driven' than any of the other Klemperer performances I know.  The first movement especially. Unvelievably powerful. Thanks again.  Now I must try the Weingartner.

Chris

Chris A.Gnostic

RE: New Klemperer releases on EMI

I think we are all guilty at times of hearing performances with pre-conditioned ears.Klemperer was an old fashioned so and so from a different age.That's that then, we are all more enlightened these days.Bring on the HIP.
It is good to read threads like this one.It's made me,for one, stop and think. The more I listen to Klemperer the higher I rate him.

RE: New Klemperer releases on EMI

Very impressive and eloquent your post, hewett_dick. While I could agree with the general thrust of your view on Klemperer, allow me some observations:

- Klemperer's Bach has definitely "integrity", but still it sounds old, heavy, almost dragging. If he considered that Bach's music dictates this kind of performance even of the Mass in b minor, reality proved him wrong. There are plenty of very beautiful, more versatile, lean and authentic performances at least in the discography, showing exactly the various aspects of this great work. I don't think either that performances "historcally correct" with the authority of a Leonhardt or Harnoncourt or even Kujiken and Herreweghe lack "integrity" or characterised by pedantry. They are extremely good , musically superb and historically correct performances.

- "Pragmatic" and "magisterial" can fit in some works, but when applied to any possible work, it looks at least "inflexible", stern and rigid. The "organic whole" cannot work without the appropriate respect of its "individual parts".

- Mozart and Mendelssohn require this sort of "elegance" called refinement. Klemperer sounds so "heavy", being "magisterial" (for his pragmatism I have my doubts) all the way, that the music of such meticulously refined composers may look so out of its context and nature. This is a Klemperer's Mozart. Take it or leave it. Bohm was less imposing and, definitely, more respectful of Mozart's music. Karajan was strong and heavy, but he kept a sort of enough refinement. Bernstein too, while Marriner, Harnoncourt and others went as close as possible to the Mozartian sense.

-As for his Mahler, despite the "authenticity" (how authentic a composer's student/assistant might be) and "modernity" (one statement about Stockhausen is enough) cards, I still find a certain number of his performances too rigid, strict and lacking any sort of flexibility. Of course, it is magisterial, imposing, but Mahler's music is such a colourful and multifold thing. Walter was so different, despite his apprentice years with the composer. So...

Having said that, I can never try to imply that Klemperer was a lesser conductor. He was great for what he was (in his own merit). I am not that thrilled with his performances. At least, not always.

Parla

RE: New Klemperer releases on EMI

"but still it sounds old,heavy, almost dragging"

Should you not add to the above sentence "in my opinion"or "my view" or "How I hear it". I grant you it is a strong argument that many have used against Klemperer over the years.As written by you it is a fact,written in stone,no argument.Sorry I don't agree with that.
With great composers of the like of Bach and Mozart there is more then one way to skin a cat.For example, I have a strong preference for Mozart's symphonies conducted by Klemperer over the fleeter more politically correct Marriner,who I admire but find in this case boring.Mozart would not have expected his symphonies to have been performed as by Klemperer,but I think he would have been quite chuffed really.He knew a great artist when he heard one.

It was interesting to read a review of the Mozart symphonies with Klemperer conducting the Philharmonia in the 1975 Penguin Guide.I quote - "Here was a Mozartian,monumentally characterful,who inevitably divides listeners sharply,and those who respond to his brand of Mozart are likely to respond very deeply indeed".

RE: New Klemperer releases on EMI

History Man, from what I have seen in the posts on this thread, none so far claimed that the old chap did not sound "old, heavy, almost dragging" or that he sounds elegant, refined, versatile, flexible. Those who defend him to the end claim other features of his greatness (magisterial, pragmatic, his personal perception of the music and some more). I also said that, despite the odd characteristics of his Mozart, for example, one has to "take it or leave it". (Actually, I took some of his Mozart, Bach, Mendelssohn, Schumann etc.)

The fact of the matter is that Klemperer did not smile that much and his performances cannot hide that. They are too serious, stern, rigid, ponderous, magisterial and some more. Mozart, Bach, Mendelssohn, even Schumann are not only that. Of course, for a Missa Solemnis, Ein Deutsches Requiem or Der Fliegende Hollander and some more solemn works, his style works perfectly fine.

In sum, a great conductor but not for all seasons.

Parla

RE: New Klemperer releases on EMI

Klemperer "old, heavy, almost dragging" - never Parla!

A germanic sense of humour heard at its best in great German composers like Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, Mahler, Mozart, Schumann, Mendelsson, all of whom benefit from his "magisterial, pragmatic and personal perception of the music". Remember the conductor's response to Walter Legge, when he had the temerity to suggest that Klemperer's 'Peasants; Merrymaking' was rather slow; "You'll get used to it". Many (but obviously not all) of us have! 

Frivolity aside, I do agree with Hewett-Dick, that both Mozart's and Mendelssohn's music are much weakened by excessive 'elegance'. Klemperer's "Midsummer Night's Dream" does not sound too heavy to me, and what might Klemperer have made of "Elijah'? As for Mozart, well Klemperer seems to me much closer to Bohm and Bernstein than to any of the more 'frivolous' or 'elegant' conductors, much to Mozart's benefit. 

As for his Bach, well that was contentious even before HIP (i.e. late 20th century style) performances coloured many people's opinions of Bach in ways unimaginable to most of Klemperer's contemporaries, but it is to his credit that he began to understand some aspects late in his life.

Of course, all of this is my opinion. What is elegant, what is fussy? What is magisterial, what is pompous? Perhaps it is a sign of the greatness of musicians like Klemperer, Furtwangler, Toscanini, Karajan, Bohm, Bernstein, Walter, that they evoke such strong opinions. 

Chris



Chris A.Gnostic

RE: New Klemperer releases on EMI

"A germanic sense of humour"? (The sort of humour, where none smiles). If there might be such a thing, then, one may find some sort of explanation for Klemperer's "magisterial, pragmatic and personal perception of the music".

The rather notorious reply "you'll get used to it" demonstrates some kind of arrogance, but not at all unusual among artists with strong convictions.

I didn't talk about "excessive 'elegance'", but rather of refinement, which I doubt someone can find in Klemperer's ponderous conducting (in works full of obvious humour, fun and exhilarating music). At least Bohm and much more Bernstein could provide either the finesse or the happy and exciting side of composers such as Mozart, Mendelssohn, Schumann etc.

Parla

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