Beethoven Symphonies Nos 5 and 7

Author: 
Richard Osborne

Beethoven Symphonies Nos 5 and 7

  • Symphony No. 5
  • Symphony No. 7

It is interesting to reflect that in 1974 there was not a single entry under the name 'Kleiber, Carlos' in The Gramophone Classical Record Catalogue. 'Kleiber, Erich': certainly. Among other things, he had recorded a famous Beethoven Fifth in 1953 (Decca, 9/87—nla). I still remember the sinking feeling I experienced—a mere tiro reviewer on Gramophone—when I dropped into the post-box my 1, 000-word rave review (they had asked for 200) of what struck me as being one of the most articulate and incandescent Beethoven Fifths I had ever heard.
In Germany, they would probably have spiked the review. There is, after all, more than a hint of triplet-rhythm in Carlos Kleiber's conducting of the opening motto, a point—eagerly seized on by some German reviewers—which I had omitted to mention in my 1, 000-word encomium.
The performance doesn't stale, though it is the first movement that stays most vividly in the memory. I had forgotten, for instance, how steady—Klemperer-like, almost—the Scherzo and finale are. (Early Klemperer, that is: the Klemperer of the famous 1956 Philharmonia Fifth or his even earlier Vox recording—5/93, nla—of which The Record Guide—Collins: 1955—wrote, ''Klemperer treats the work as if he had just discovered its greatness''. )
The recording of the Fifth, always very fine, comes up superbly in the new transfer. What, though, of the Seventh Symphony, an equally distinguished performance though always perceptibly greyer-sounding on LP, and on CD? Well, it too is superb. What the Original-Image Bit-Processing has done to it, I wouldn't begin to know, but the result is a performance of genius that now speaks to us freely and openly for the first time.
In some ways this is a more important document than the famous Fifth. Great recordings of the Seventh, greatly played and greatly conducted, but with first and second violins divided left and right, are as rare as gold-dust. Freshly refurbished, this Kleiber Seventh would go right to the top of my short list of recommendable Sevenths.
It is wonderful to have these two legendary performances so expertly restored and placed together on one disc for the first time. '

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