Otto Klemperer had a lot of ups and downs, to say the least. Accidents, problems with his health, and a rather cantankerous personality set him back at different points in his career. For example, after a long fallow period following World War Two and his slow recovery from the effects of a brain tumor, Klemperer secured a position with the Budapest Opera, but held it for only three years because of wrangling with the administration. Shortly after, he broke his hip, which put him out of commission for another year. It was in 1951, however, that Klemperer conducted an outstanding performance of Mahler's Second Symphony in Amsterdam, with Kathleen Ferrier and Jo Vincent as the soloists. That live performance was released by Decca, and remains among the finest "Resurrections" ever available on disc.
Klemperer's success with the Concertgebouw Orchestra on that occasion was not a fluke. He frequently guest-conducted that orchestra during the 1950s, and the surviving recorded documents of those occasions add welcome detail to Klemperer's portrait. The concert preserved here (in toto, according to Music & Arts, although it seems to have been an unusually short concert!) dates from February 7, 1957. It has been restored by Andrew Rose of Pristine Audio, and the sound is excellent, even if it is monaural and occasionally peppered with audience noise.
Because Klemperer never made a studio recording of Schubert's Symphony #4, this CD is particularly welcome. This is a larger-than-life reading, full of portent. By some standards, I suppose it could be called heavy, but I think Klemperer's underlining of the work's drama keeps the music moving forward with excitement. Those who associate this composer with charm will not find much of that here, yet this certainly is a worthwhile reading.
Compared to his studio recording from 1961 (with the Philharmonia Orchestra), Klemperer's Concertgebouw Till Eulenspiegel is a little faster but somehow also more cautious, although one senses that the conductor's understanding of how to pace a longer stretches of music is at play here. In other words, Klemperer holds back a little early in order to deliver more later on. In the long run, this is a performance that lacks a little spontaneity, but it is not at all dull.
The Brahms, which opens the CD, is a jewel. Klemperer is not a conductor one associates with schmaltz, yet this reading of the Haydn Variations has many moments of surpassing loveliness, particularly in the Grazioso seventh variation, where subtle string portamentos – never overdone! – create a feeling of sublime relaxation and contentment.
The booklet note is a brief bio by Jerry Miller of the conductor. A discussion of Klemperer's relationship with the Concertgebouw would have been more appropriate, but no matter: this is a fine disc to consider owning, even if you don't specialize in Klemperer.
Copyright © 2008, Raymond Tuttle