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Otto Klemperer

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Bach: Suite No.3 BWV 1068/KRSO
(Saal 1, Funkhaus, Koln, 17 October 1955)

Mozart: Symphony No.29/KRSO
(Saal 1, Funkhaus, Koln, 8 February 1954)

Beethoven: Symphony No.1/KRSO
(Saal 1, Funkhaus, Koln 21 February 1954)

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Otto Klemperer (1885-1973) was one of the most celebrated German conductors of the 20th century. On the 8 February 1954 Klemperer made his debut in Cologne with Mozart's Symphony No.29 a favourite of the conductor. Eigel Kruttge who had been Klemperer's assistant at the Cologne Opera in the 1920's was the producer at the KRSO, famously described Klemperer's initial rehearsal as 'From the first bars, the lions claws' and apt description for the tall and imposing conductor. Following the success of the Klemperer's first concert, he was invited back in the same month to conduct Beethoven's Symphony No.1 which Kruttge wrote 'Everything absolutely right'. The broadcast of the Bach Suite No.3, another favourite work of the conductor, followed in October 1955, almost a year after he recorded them with the Philharmonia. WDR's broadcasts of all these concerts are of very high technical quality and have never been issued before.

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J.S. Bach- Orchestral Suite No.3 in D major, BWV 1068 - Air

Grade 
Agnieszka M
03/Feb/2015

These recordings were made just around the time when, after his itinerant years of guest conducting, Klemperer was chosen by Walter Legge to begin a famous series of recordings for EMI with the newly formed Philharmonia Orchestra. Seventy years old and already in dubious health following his fall while disembarking from a plane in 1951 then burning himself in a bedroom fire, Klemperer clawed his way back to being able to conduct standing up and to the top of his profession.
One of the orchestras with which he had previously been frequently working was the Kölner Rundfunk and for a while he continued to conduct them. This disc presents three radio broadcasts from the mid-1950s, in good mono sound sourced from the original tapes. It has to be said that, for all Klemperer’s mastery, it may clearly be heard that the strings here are not always perfectly tuned and the long, melodic spans of the famous “Air” suffer the most grievously from that flawed intonation. There are other accidents; for instance, an uncertain trumpeter makes a false entry and come momentarily unstuck in the second Gavotte. Otherwise, this is a grand and noble account of Bach’s majestic Suite, vigorous and spirited.

The Mozart is similarly powerful and propulsive; Klemperer was amongst the first to break away from any residual notion of Mozart being a tunesmith of pretty melodies. There are again a few moments of rhythmic uncertainty but Klemperer brings both warmth and solidity to a performance which eschews any hint of tweeness. The Allegro con spirito finale is especially ebullient, the violins tearing up the fifth leaps as if possessed.

However, the highpoint of this compilation is the Beethoven symphony. There is a massive certainty to Klemperer’s direction which makes it truly compelling. It is simply the best performance of this symphony I know. The Cologne forces might not have been the best of all German orchestras but Klemperer galvanises them into delivering a performances which perfectly captures the composer’s daring. For all that the “Eroica” was supposedly Beethoven’s calling card, announcing the arrival of new spirit in Western music, played like this it is the First Symphony which seems to pre-empt the mission of that great work.

You will notice that I have made no allusion to Klemperer’s supposed predilection for slow tempi as that is not an issue here. This is simply one of the great 20th century conductors demonstrating his prowess in interpreting the music of the three greatest composers.

Ralph Moore

MusicWeb International

    Grade 
    Aurelie B
    16/Jul/2014

    [...] Sound-wise, ICA has done well to keep filtering to a minimum. In fact, the only reason I was reminded that these are 'old' recordings was through the quality of the performances: love them or leave them, you'd travel far and wide to hear anything similar nowadays.

    Rob Cowan

    Gramophone, August 2014

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