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CD Review

Carlos Kleiber

Complete Orchestral Recordings
on Deutsche Grammophon

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Carlos Kleiber
Deutsche Grammophon 4792687 3CDs + Blu-ray
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This 2014 set collects the great orchestral recordings of Carlos Kleiber in one nifty package. The Blu-ray holds all three CDs worth of music, and adds a retrospective documentary. The whole project looks great on your shelf or coffee table. Of the recordings themselves little needs to be said. The Beethoven and Brahms are established classics, while the Schubert is both personal and highly involving.

All three CDs boast improved sonic qualities over their "Originals" issues. The careful re-mastering allows us to hear these exceptional performances in better sound than ever before, highlighting the outstanding musicality of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Despite making very few appearances with them – or anywhere for that matter – Kleiber's special relationship with the Vienna players is always in evidence. The Beethoven Fifth is of course a masterful one, with few competitors now or then. The Brahms will not please those who are expecting thrills or mannerisms. In fact, what impresses most about the performance is the conductors' willingness to get out of the way. He doesn't touch up what we know about this music as much as he carefully dusts it off. It's a restoration as opposed to a Photoshop job.

In the Schubert, the Third proves unusually swift, with the Vienna forces on high alert. It's a decidedly "Classical" reading, urgently propulsive and almost driven. The "Unfinished" shares similar virtues, with very little of the heaviness that occasionally makes this work sticky. Elegant and poised, the Vienna Philharmonic retains its rich sound while responding wholeheartedly to the conductor's vision. Kudos to Kleiber for that; this orchestra does not like change within music it knows well. The only reading I find less than convincing is the Beethoven Seventh, which I find a touch stiff and lacking in character. Compared to the combustible and spontaneous Fifth, it proves slightly disappointing. That said, this version is also a classic, and very well-respected. That applies to the entire set, actually, and in new transfers, sounds better than ever. I did not sample the Blu-ray disc, but format preferences aside, this is essential listening.

Copyright © 2015, Brian Wigman