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Brian Wilson
MusicWeb International, March 2010

The classic account of the Eroica is Klemperer’s mono version, with tempi noticeably faster than his stereo re-make. It comes with two Leonore Overtures from EMI in the Great Recordings series, or with a slightly different coupling from Naxos. Both transfers are very good; since the Naxos is the less expensive, both on CD and as a download, that’s the one to go for. The lossless version which was available on passionato seems to have disappeared in their recent revamp, though they still have the EMI and classicsonline have the Naxos in good mp3.

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, April 2009

The question that nags away whenever Klemperer’s Eroica is discussed is whether one favours this 1955 recording or the one made in stereo in 1961. The essence is similar, the same sense of power, the weighty architecture, the care taken over the delineation of the wind choirs—one of Klemperer’s most astute qualities as an orchestral balancer—as well as the sectional balance between the strings. The main differences occur in the second movement—considerably slower in 1961—and in the finale where opinions certainly differ. Some find the granitic linearity of Klemperer’s conception better realised in the later performance but I’ve always favoured the 1955, where one feels the finale’s spine is better maintained and the sense of tensile control is just that bit more gripping. Certainly one can argue that the 1961 recording incarnates a different kind of tension—an argument that I think is reasonable—but if one has to decide as definitively as one can then the case for the 1955 traversal is the more unarguable.

The brass is on especially fine form, as are the famed winds. The Philharmonia’s bass line is more strongly etched than most British orchestras of the day as well. Those for whom the slow movement moves at a slower tempo will perhaps favour the 1961 reading which lasts around 17 minutes to the 14:40 of this one, a tempo taken at a rather faster clip even than Weingartner’s legendary 1936 Vienna recording, also on Naxos [8.110956]. I find it eloquent and powerful in both Klemperer performances and the establishment of a significantly slower tempo only a few years apart does attest to a certain redefinition of the contours of the movement in its symphonic context. That may be something of an index for those who have yet to hear either recording.

Admirers of the conductor will have the luxury of comparing and contrasting both performances, augmented by such live concert or broadcast material as emerges…This Naxos offers the [Leonore] overtures Nos 1 and 3 in performances that marry theatrical dynamism with effective dynamic nuance and colour.

The transfers are unproblematic and attractive.

Colin Clarke
MusicWeb International, February 2009

The “Eroica” comes from Columbia 33CX 1346. The presence of the sound carried in the grooves of the LP is well transferred across to compact disc by restoration engineer Mark Obert-Thorn. This is actually almost the same programme as the EMI GROC issue; here we have Leonore Overtures 1 and 3; there it was 1 and 2.

The sheer weight of the first movement seems to be a reflection of its own internal, natural force. There is no exposition repeat; it is almost as if it were impossible to go back. Dissonances are relayed for all they are worth, making the famous climax prior to the “E minor” theme all the more awe-inspiring. If the acoustic sounds a bit swimmy for the first horn solo around the 9-10 minute mark, it is generally in fine focus. Detail is lovingly preserved, so that one gets to hear woodwind parts lost in many “more advanced” recent recordings.

The Adagio assai is faster than one might expect at first. It is also exquisitely shaded, with the Philharmonia strings rich and sonorous. Fugal work—around seven minutes—is marked by the unstoppability of lava flow. The sound is everywhere, and nowhere more so than in this movement built from the bass upwards. It is as if the sound is both tied to the earth and coming from it. The sheer quality of the playing from all sections of the orchestra is little short of miraculous. The same comment goes for the Scherzo. No nimble-footed sprite, this, more a behemoth on uppers. The horn trio is superbly played—just a pity they sound a little recessed.

The opening to the finale blazes. No mere introduction, this, but a clear statement of intent that casts its shadow over the unfolding variations. And unfold they do, with an inevitability and structural grasp that enable Klemperer to hold to his tempo. In lesser hands this would merely sound pretentiously ponderous. The great horn entry at 8:55 is the only moment I question—it hits you like a punch in the stomach and is so sudden it almost, but not quite, takes away the over-riding grandeur.

Comparing this account of the mighty “Eroica” to the Karajan/Philharmonia is to compare two interpretations both of giant stature. Karajan’s cycle was recorded November 1951-July 1955 in the same hall with the same orchestra – EMI 5 5158632. Perhaps Klemperer wins out. His is the more noble, and in both the EMI and Naxos Historical versions I prefer the sound accorded to Klemperer. But I would not do without the bargain Karajan cycle.

The two Leonore Overtures come from the same Columbia LP (33CX 1270). We hear the rarely played Leonore No. 1. Klemperer was to re-record it with the same orchestra in the same location nine years later. All three of the 1963 Leonore Overtures are available coupled with the Eighth Symphony on EMI’s Klemperer Legacy CDM5 66796 2. Klemperer makes a superb case for No. 1, as he does for the much better-known Third Overture—essentially a symphonic poem, as Colin Anderson points out in his booklet notes—recorded the very next day. The sound-painting of the prison cell at the opening, followed by the clarinet statement of Florestan’s aria (“In des Lebens”) is exquisitely managed, as is the true string pianissimo immediately following. String discipline, too, is miraculous. The “off-stage trumpet” is nicely distanced. Both Leonores have their own theatricality here and reward careful listening.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, December 2008

Recorded by Otto Klemperer and the Philharmonia at the peak of their combined power, their 1955 performance remains my unqualified recommendation as the finest and most logically conceived account of the ‘Eroica’ on disc. The pure drama—that almost overloaded the original Columbia LP pressing—came from his wide dynamic range and tempos that were urgent but never rushed. Throughout there is that craggy feel you have when Klemperer was at his most inspired, as if he were fashioning the work from rough hewn granite. The second movement Funeral March moves at a pace of dignity and avoids sentimentality, while the spacious scherzo has the benefit of gorgeous horn playing, presumable lead by the legendary Dennis Brain. There is the questionable decision to omit the first movement repeat that today is taken for granted, but at the time was often ignored. The interpretations of two Leonora overtures, which featured on an LP recorded in 1954, are at times rather hard driven, though the spacious introduction to the third overture sets the scene for the lyric aspects that are to follow. By comparison with the symphony, the orchestral playing is at times a little rough around the edges, though exciting at the appropriate moments. The disc’s information would suggest that the symphony was taken from 1956 pressings, though on checking my pressings it sounds more akin to the subsequent reissue when some of the ‘bite’ in the original release had been smoothed. It is an immaculate transfer, the two Leonore overtures a distinct improvement on my LP.

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