About this Recording
8.111248 - BEETHOVEN: Symphonies Nos. 5 and 7 (Klemperer) (1955)
English 

Great Conductors: Otto Klemperer (1885-1973)
BEETHOVEN: Symphonies Nos. 5 and 7

 

These recordings of Beethoven's Fifth and Seventh Symphonies were set down together with a much-celebrated Eroica towards the start of Klemperer's relationship with the Philharmonia Orchestra, which endured from his first concert engagement by the orchestra's founder Walter Legge for the opening of London's Royal Festival Hall as part of the celebrations making up the Festival of Britain in May 1951 until the conductor's death in 1973, by which time he had overseen their transformation away from Legge to the New Philharmonia Orchestra.

George Szell had been engaged for the Philharmonia's two festival concerts with soloist Artur Schnabel, but when the conductor was found to be unavailable and Legge's proposed alternative, Herbert von Karajan, was not favoured by the festival's organizers, the esteemed German pianist lost no time in suggesting Klemperer, with whom he had previously collaborated very productively on several occasions. In the event, Schnabel also had to cancel owing to illness, his place in the 'Emperor' Concerto being taken by Myra Hess. The all-Beethoven programme also featured the Egmont Overture and the Fifth Symphony. As part of the general absenteeism that dogged the occasion, Legge was not able to attend either, but was left in no doubt of the runaway success of Klemperer with the audience, critics and more importantly the members of the orchestra, one of whom, Marie Wilson, is reported to have said to the impresario 'I feel like a tart, taking money from you for making music with a man like that'.

Klemperer had previously endured twenty years of the most extreme trauma in both his professional career and his personal life. Ever since the politically protracted and emotionally fraught closure of the Kroll Opera in Berlin in 1931, where as Music Director he had vigorously promoted contemporary stage works by Janácek, Stravinsky, Hindemith and Ravel as well as innovative productions of established repertoire, he had suffered persecution from the Nazis, followed by unhappy émigré years in the United States during the Second World War as principal conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, only to return to Europe in 1946 after the war to feel compelled to leave his post at the Budapest State Opera under the increasingly authoritarian stranglehold of the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

Thereafter he accepted engagements almost wherever he could, all the time battling against manic-depression and a series of debilitating accidents. For Klemperer to be in London in 1951 was the most fortuitous instance of being in the right place at the right time. Although concert activity remained a key component of Legge's project with the Philharmonia Orchestra, its main focus centred on recording and building a catalogue of repertoire with the best performers and technical staff that he could muster to exploit the new LP technology that was transforming home listening and the general accessibility of music in the post-war world. Apart from the still controversial Karajan, Legge's roster of conductors at this relatively early stage was not the most distinguished. Klemperer could hold his head high with Furtwängler, Walter, Kleiber and Toscanini and, despite his reputation for being stubborn and difficult, he represented a conductor of inestimable pedigree and patrician authority, especially in core classical repertoire, who would potentially be a flagship brand leader for a recording company poised on the brink of a new era.

Always controversial and rarely endearing unless it suited him, Legge's support and offer of a recording contract opened the door to a new period of much needed stability and security for Klemperer, as well as a platform from which to reconsolidate his career on an international level. Despite the conductor's refusal really to trust the recording process and even though he was already under contract to Vox at the time, he was almost as wily in character as Legge and was not going to shy away from such a gift of an opportunity. After protracted negotiation during a period of recuperation following a fall in which he had fractured his neck, Klemperer finally agreed contract terms with Legge and EMI on 10 May 1952. Even then, further difficulties arose owing to Klemperer's American citizenship and his long absences from the United States. The American Federation of Musicians would not agree to him recording abroad and the EMI contract had to be cancelled in July 1953. Only when he gave up American citizenship could a new contract be signed in 1954.

The first recording sessions with the Philharmonia took place in October 1954, when Klemperer recorded Mozart's 29th and 'Jupiter' Symphonies with Hindemith's Nobilissima Visione and Brahms's Variations on the St. Anthony Chorale. The Hindemith work was to have been the Horn Concerto with Dennis Brain, but these sessions did not go well, with conflict over tempi putting conductor and soloist at loggerheads. As it turned out, this was an early sign of things to come, but Legge neatly sidestepped the issue by suggesting the alternative Hindemith work and later setting up Brain's recording of the concerto with the composer, no less, conducting. In the following month, Bach's four Orchestral Suites were recorded together with the Beethoven's three Leonora and Fidelio Overtures. The restoration of Klemperer's fortunes was well under way.

Given the temperaments involved, Legge's agreement to record Klemperer in three Beethoven symphonies in 1955 before the completion of his ongoing cycle with Karajan and the same orchestra demonstrates considerable chutzpah and typical shrewdness. In terms of re-establishing Klemperer's reputation on both sides of the Atlantic, these three recordings were crucial and, with the dawning of the stereo age, led to a decision for him to record the rest of the cycle with stereo remakes of the Third, Fifth and Seventh Symphonies.

Klemperer always regarded Beethoven as special and the conductor was already perceived as one of the composer's greatest interpreters. His interpretations of the symphonies and Fidelio were renowned for being uncompromising, architectural and highly objective. In his youth he had inherited the Wagnerian tradition of taking considerable licence with regard to tempi and retouching the orchestrations, something also taken forward by Mahler, of whom Klemperer had first-hand experience and almost reverential appreciation. But over the years he more frequently made a point of saying that he wanted to return to the original Beethoven scores. Never a conductor for whom expression, colour and feeling were foremost, he concentrated on form, structure and overall architecture within the context of tempi, dynamics and harmonic development designated by the composer. This still did not dissuade him from using a large body of strings with a doubling of woodwind and occasionally horns to match the texture. Ever alert to balance, Klemperer always split his first and second violins across the front of the platform and ensured that the contribution of wind and brass counterpoint and rhythmic clarity was not compromised.

The circumstances of Beethoven's own parlous emotional and physical condition would certainly have had a particular and specific relevance to Klemperer as his own state became increasingly precarious. Survival through indomitable spirit certainly provides a bedrock for these examples of Klemperer's work in the studio with Beethoven symphonies and, in this repertoire, many would argue that he never recaptured this quality in the recording studio to quite the same exalted degree.

Ian Julier

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Producer's Note

When stereo tape recording was first adopted by the major labels in the mid-1950s, it was looked upon as an experimental adjunct to the main monaural recording sessions. The stereo engineer would work from a different studio than the mono producer and engineer. With EMI and Decca at least, this control room was kept secret from the "artistes" out of fear they might demand to be paid twice for the sessions (once for the mono and again for the stereo taping). The new equipment often malfunctioned, and sometimes not enough was recorded of takes that went well to release. When success was achieved, the results could only be issued on open-reel tape, as the technology for cutting stereo LPs had not yet been developed.

Such was the case with Klemperer's first Philharmonia recordings of three Beethoven symphonies. While the Eroica (made around the same time as the two symphonies reissued here) and the Fifth were only ever released in mono, the Seventh came out in 1956 on an EMI "Stereosonic" tape. However, the takes used for the stereo release were not always the same as those chosen for the mono LP. In the case of the Seventh Symphony, enough critics and other listeners have preferred the mono version that EMI have reissued twice over the years, on LP and CD, at the same time they had the stereo recording in print. Currently, this coupling in EMI's "Great Recordings of the Century" series uses the stereo taping of the Seventh. When that CD came out, some critics voiced disappointment that the mono version had not been chosen in its place. That decision is rectified with the present release.

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Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67
Recorded 6 and 7 October and 17 December 1955 in Kingsway Hall, London
First issued on Columbia 33C 1051

Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92
Recorded 5 and 6 October and 17 December 1955 in Kingsway Hall, London
First issued on Columbia 33CX 1379

 


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