Composer: Anton Bruckner
Orchestra: Vienna Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Otto Klemperer
Number of Discs: 1
Format: APE (image+cue)
Size: 211 MB
02. I. Allegro moderato
03. II. Adagio (Sehr feierlich und sehr langsam)
04. III. Scherzo (Sehr schnell)
05. IV. Finale (Bewegt, doch nicht schnell)
Five stars for bursts of genius from Klemperer, minus four stars for really bad execution
Anything from Klemperer is catnip on the British market, thirty-seven years after his death, but this CD requires a willing suspension of disbelief — if you can make allowances, the performance itself is glorious, a Bruckner Seventh that leaves a deep impression. The recording is in thin mono sound to begin with, showing every evidence of having been taped in Feb. 1958. The Vienna Sym., which was a ragged band throughout the Fifties, doesn’t surpass itself technically; they come perilously close to losing it in the Scherzo, which in any case is one of the worst played I’ve ever heard. Woodwind and brass solos are frail — is that the polite term? — and even the strings don’t do well by their Viennese heritage. So you have to put up with abrasive brass interjections, violins that have their sour moments, and a general sense that orchestral playing has gotten much, much better in the past fifty years.
Once you set these detriments aside, it’s clear why Testament was right in releasing this historical recording. In place of the stiff, grand, unyielding Klemperer we’re familiar with from his EMI catalog, this conductor, at age 72, is far more flexible, and his ability to shape phrases, evoke changing moods, and capture the full range of Bruckner’s world is remarkable. The musicians, faulty as they may be, were clearly inspired by him. There is intensity of feeling but also delicacy in this performance. Bruckner’s idiom contains a great deal of repetition that can numb orchestras — the same is true in the Schubert Ninth, for instance, a work that prefigures Bruckner — so you know something special is happening when those yards and yards of tremolo in the violins sound alive and fully engaged.
For anyone who pigeonholes Klemperer as “too slow,” this Bruckner Seventh takes 60 mn. compared to Karajan’s 68 min. and the young Simon Rattle’s 72 min., both on EMI (I don’t know how much of this difference can be attributed to various editions and repeats observed or not; for EMI Klemperer’s reading was 5 min. slower). It’s really for the first two movements that I can recommend this Cd. the Scherzo is more or less a total loss, beginning with the sour trumpet calls but lapsing into much worse trouble as the music unfolds. The finale, taken with urgent briskness, brings out some lovely lyrical passages, but by this time the musicians are unnerved and tired, so the proceedings are catch as catch can. In the end, there’s so much to forgive that many listeners won’t be able to delve into the best that this CD has to offer, which is intermittent great music-making.