Composer: Anton Bruckner, Richard Strauss
Orchestra: Kolner Rundfunk-Sinfonie Orchestra
Conductor: Otto Klemperer
Number of Discs: 1
Format: FLAC (image+cue)
Label: Medici Arts
Size: 327 MB
Bruckner – Symphony no.4
01. Bewegt, nicht zu schnell
02. Andante quasi allegretto
03. Scherzo. Bewegt – Trio. Nicht zu schnell. Keinesfalls schleppend
04. Finale. Bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell
Strauss – Don Juan
05. Don Juan op.20
A benchmark Fourth from Klemperer, despite patchy sound and only good-enough playing
Medici Arts is a name that’s mostly unknown in the U.S., but they license the renowned BBC Legends series. The same tactic of going into archives for live broadcasts from the past applies here. This Bruckner Fourth from 1954 was taped in the studios of West German Radio in Cologne, a city that has given us the bulk of historical Klemperer recordings before he reached his pinnacle of fame with the Philharmonia in London. During the early Fifties, when Klemperer was consigned to peripheral orchestras on the Vox label, his style was still fiery, magnetic, and quite at odds with the slow tempos he adopted in extreme old age.
That’s certainly true in this swift, tensile Brucckner Fourth. It’s one of the outstanding readings from him – or anyone else of the period – standing in strong contrast to the “cathedral” tradition that prevailed with Knappertsbusch and Schuricht, among others. As a local critic noted, “the lion’s claws were out” from the first note (although it sounds to me as if a beat of whispered string tremolo has been omitted before the first horn entry). Among Bruckner’s mature symphonies, the Fourth is the only one without an Adagio – the slow movement is marked Andante quasi Allegretto. In their desire to have a slower slow movement, conductors tend to drag the pace. Simon Rattle takes well over 16 min. and Karajan over 15 min., while Klemperer delivers a true Andante (walking tempo) at 13 min. He trims time off the other movements as well, resulting in a level of intense concentration that is compelling.
I wish I could say the same for the recorded sound, which is imbalanced toward the horns and weak in the strings. The texture is thin overall; newcomers who aren’t used to historical broadcast sound should take note. Yet the remastering is clean, and I adjusted to the less-than-ideal acoustic, which has no bass to speak of. As for the orchestra, they keep up with Klemperer’s intentions, even if grand brass climaxes are raw and slapdash; one has to realize that this is a good-enough provincial German orchestra struggling to maintain standards after the war. On that ground, they do very well, with no bloopers and messiness of the kind that woefully afflict Testament’s release of a Bruckner Seventh under Klemperer during this period.
anyone who knows Klemperer only in his grand old man phase deserves to be socked by the “other” Klemperer. I wish we had ore of him, in better sound. The filler here provides more evidence of the contrast – it’s an alert, energized Don Juan from 1958. the orchestra is notably stronger but not the sound, alas.