Finally we have almost all the Beethoven recordings that Carlos Kleiber recorded in the autumn of his life for Decca in one set that also contains some lovely rarities in the shape of Mozart symphonies with Schubert and Weber thrown in for good measure.
So much has already been said about these classic Concertgebouw recordings of the Third, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh symphonies. I would venture to add that these classics of the gramophone have come out sounding extremely beautiful with singing top registers and remarkable sound stage for the early 50's. I was bowled over by the energy of the Seventh Symphony which has a lovely transition in the First Movement and a dreamy Allegretto reminding one of hallowed antiquity. The Fifth is also splendidly paced, ebullience and grace are found in equal charm here but the explosive sense of triumph in the Finale is perhaps hard to beat although Furtwängler's 1944 Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra recording (EMI) is perhaps even more earth shattering.
There are two Eroica's and also two Pastoral's. I marginally prefer the Concertgebouw Third although the VPO recording has a slightly more expansive Funeral March and an explosive Finale that culminates in a thrilling dash to the finish. The London Symphony Sixth dates from 1948 and as such is in slightly inferior sound, although there is not much to choose between this taping and the VPO recording which does have the added benefit of wonderful string sound and a gloriously expansive Finale. Kleiber's Ninth is also impressively and tautly conducted although I felt that the performance is slightly earthbound with others bringing a greater sense of purpose and urgency to this most seminal of symphonies.
Decca have also reissued some fine live recordings with the Cologne Symphony Orchestra, an incisive Weber First Symphony and some delightful German Dances by Mozart showing a conductor on top form in the concert hall. The Schubert "Great" is another classical reading, slightly restrained but also very pensive in grandeur and scope. However, I still prefer Bohm's wonderful 1977 live account with the Staatskapelle Dresden (EMI/DG) although Kleiber does run a close second alongside Krips, Barbirolli and the vastly underrated Boult (BBC Legends). Mozart's 39th is also brilliantly done whilst #40 is also available on an EMI Great Conductors set which incidentally includes another rare "Pastoral" with the Czech Philharmonic.
There is a slight error in the booklet where it is stated that the 1948 recording of the pastoral is a first release on CD. In fact, Dutton has released this recording a couple of years ago coupled with an earlier recording of Beethoven's Second dating from 1928. Minor quibbles apart however, this is a gigantic set that offers ample proof of the stature of Erich Kleiber as one of the finest conductors of the beloved Austro-German Romantic repertoire.
Copyright © 2004, Gerald Fenech