, June 2011
Otto Klemperer had an old friend and colleague in the broadcasting station at Cologne: Eigel Kruttge (1899–1979). In 1922 he had become Klemperer’s assistant at the opera house in the city, and though their paths thereafter diverged, Kruttge was very helpful in obtaining Klemperer’s services after the war. A series of studio broadcasts followed, and we have two performances in this disc.
By a long way the more important is the 1956 German Requiem. Though his later studio recording with the Philharmonia remains a towering achievement, indeed a talisman of his Brahms conducting—linear, direct, and unsentimental—this earlier performance is yet more direct. In fact it’s around nine or ten minutes quicker than the London account, and allows one an increased perspective on Klemperer’s priorities in this work as they changed, or mutated, or redefined themselves.
Principally one notices the overwhelming sense of dynamism that he generates. There is no hint of the marmoreal; instead consolation comes through rhythmically charged tempi, sharp accenting, forward choral contributions, and direct and unmannered solo singing. The result is that the music proceeds in a steadily evolving, unbroken arch, rather than relapsing, as can happen, into a series of choral and orchestral vignettes. There is no sign of the ‘manic’ Klemperer here, simple a disciplined one conscious that even in the longest movements—Denn alles Fleisch, for example—a sense of inner motion must be maintained, and that the interlocking sections must make both local and national sense, as it were.
Throughout I find this admirable. The well-moulded Selig sind opens the work with a sense of forward motion; the choral entries are precise, the wind lines audible, and so too the important harp. Baritone Hermann Prey was 27 when he performed with Klemperer. The voice sounds firm, well-rounded, focused, the interpretation mature, direct, and unwilling to indulge metrical or verbal dalliances, such as would imperil the directness of the music-making. Other, more interventionist baritones can unsettle things through their insistence on rubato stretching or through drawing attention to over-expressive nuances. Not here. Elisabeth Grümmer was 45, and again she sings with admirable unselfconsciousness. Directness of utterance in her case, as with Prey’s, is not to be confused with indifference, or coldness. Rather it is a vindication of Klemperer’s ensemble virtues that orchestra, chorus and solo singers are directed to the same aim. This becomes overwhelmingly clear by the time we reach the final movement, but it is clear throughout, and it’s the accumulation of such direct consolatory drive that gives this performance its sense of integrity and power and humanity.
There is a brief rehearsal segment—two and a half minutes—in which one can hear Klemperer talking and singing along—that’s ‘conductor singing’, a species of sing-along known only to those who wield the baton. The Mozart Serenata notturna comes from a 1954 concert, and prefaced Mahler’s Fourth Symphony.
This valuable document is in good mono sound, with somewhat florid booklet notes. This invigorating reading adds an exciting new vista on the conductor’s performances of the German Requiem.