- Author’s Note
- Conductors born in the 1850s
- SIR GEORGE HENSCHEL
- ARTHUR NIKISCH
- ROBERT KAJANUS
- MAX FIEDLER
- KARL MUCK
- Conductors born in the 1860s
- ENRIQUE FERNANDEZ ARBOS
- GABRIEL PIERNÉ
- FRANZ SCHALK
- FELIX WEINGARTNER
- RICHARD STRAUSS
- ARTURO TOSCANINI
- LORENZO MOLAJOLI
- MAX VON SCHILLINGS
- HANS PFITZNER
- SIR HENRY J. WOOD
- Conductors born in the 1870s
- LEO BLECH
- OSKAR FRIED
- WILLEM MENGELBERG
- ALEXANDER VON ZEMLINSKY
- SIEGMUND VON HAUSEGGER
- ALFRED HERTZ
- FREDERICK STOCK
- SERGEI RACHMANINOFF
- SIR LANDON RONALD
- SERGE KOUSSEVITZKY
- SELMAR MEYROWITZ
- PIERRE MONTEUX
- ETTORE PANIZZA
- PABLO CASALS
- BRUNO WALTER
- ARTUR BODANZKY
- OSSIP GABRILOWITSCH
- TULLIO SERAFIN
- SIR THOMAS BEECHAM
- PHILIPPE GAUBERT
- SIR HAMILTON HARTY
- GAETANO MEROLA
- FRANTISEK STUPKA
- Conductors born in the 1880s
- D. E. INGHELBRECHT
- CARL SCHURICHT
- BRUNO SEIDLER-WINKLER
- ALBERT COATES
- LEOPOLD STOKOWSKI
- IGOR STRAVINSKY
- HERMANN ABENDROTH
- ERNEST ANSERMET
- NIKOLAI MALKO
- FRITZ STIEDRY
- VACLAV TALICH
- SAMUIL SAMOSUD
- ALBERT WOLFF
- VITTORIO GUI
- OTTO KLEMPERER
- HANS WEISBACH
- WILHELM FURTWAENGLER
- FRANCO GHIONE
- ROBERT HEGER
- GENNARO PAPI
- PAUL PARAY
- GEORGE GEORGESCU
- PIERO COPPOLA
- HANS KNAPPERTSBUSCH
- FRITZ REINER
- SIR ADRIAN BOULT
Tall as a Globetrotters basketball player, high-strung as the bi-polar creature he undoubtedly was, Otto Klemperer was (no pun intended) an even larger larger-than-life personality than your average vision-seeing, Message-carrying, orchestra-magnetizing maestro such as these pages are filled with. A recurrent phoenix, he survived many medical and circumstantial disasters to achieve one of the longest gramophonic presences of modern times: one can follow him over four decades and more, in Berlin, Los Angeles, New York, Budapest, London, Copenhagen, Cologne, Amsterdam, Vienna, Munich, Torino, Philadelphia. And even when, a widowed octogenarian who conducted mostly with a ruggedly imperial left hand, he was resting between performances at his Zurich flat, carefully tended by his daughter, he was ready with wise and salty reminiscences for visiting commentators asking about his long career, and thinking about pretty girls too.
I am privileged to have lunched once with the great Lotte Lehmann, employed as a young soprano at the Hamburg Opera at the same time Klemperer was an equally youthful conductor there, and she tells the best Klemperer anecdote I know: “When he was wanting, I was not; and when I was wanting, he was not . . .” About that time Klemperer ran off with another wonderful soprano, Elisabeth Schumann, who, unfortunately, had a very angry husband. Now, those of you who think these particulars are beneath the dignity of this volume, NEVER underestimate the role of the libido in symphonic interpretation. Onward! Quickly to be put at rest is the misconception that Otto Klemperer is merely “that SLOW conductor.” In that connection people are really talking about his EMI “studio” recordings with the Philharmonia Orchestra in the Fifties and Sixties, and there were a lot of them, all the more to spread an incomplete and easily garbled message. Translation: Klemperer without an audience behind him did favor relatively slow tempos in allegro movements from about 1956 on. But note the details: we’re talking slowish allegros in non-“live” performances from a particular, almost pin-pointable date.
Klemperer was good enough to be remarkably consistent – if not quite 100 pct. so – in handing us this bit of information, easily detectable by a lot of listening and much attention to the second hand on one’s wristwatch. Some chapter-and-verse on this subject later, because his decision-making always bears studying, but for now let’s plunge into one of the earliest “live” Klemperer recordings available, the Bruckner Ninth he conducted with the New York Philharmonic Symphony 10-14-34. The piece, of course, is a veritable Monument Valley with its sonic menhirs, charged silences, its melodies that can stretch across an unobstructed horizon. The sustained tremolo at the solemn outset comes from the depths, considerably lower than the Seventh Avenue subway sometimes audible in Carnegie Hall transmissions. Then the music is in the ether. Decisive but airy, urgent almost to the point of craziness, Klemperer roars up to the triple forte of the Principal Theme, a capitalized item if there ever was one, and the sound of this stupendous unison is Furtwaengleresque, as if Klemperer like his colleague in visionary matters is breaking proto-symphonic chunks off a mammoth primordial rock.
Then the haunting A major theme in the violins almost drips with a perspiration of mystic joy, a fervor extraordinaire. One thinks of that photograph of Klemperer from Berlin a few years earlier, bow tie askew, those vulnerable eyes looking over our shoulders we know not where, seeing we know not what. But Dr. Klemperer is absolutely in control, Bruckner’s waves of development (which delight in shoving recapitulation aside) are integral and buoyant, aggressive but sympathetic.
The scherzo that follows is leggiero but INTENSE. Unpacking such wares in Carnegie Hall, Klemperer must have seemed a creature from outer space, not just a reluctant Los Angelean who’d miraculously squeezed into a Lilliputian compartment on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, changing of course in Chicago to the New York Central. But he was sublimating his manic-ness for the good of those Philharmonic subscribers in their Bonwit furs and grey flannel suits. The merely respectful applause following the final great adagio – music that does not in this performance go down without a struggle — seems an insult. The majestic rise Klemperer oversees at the adagio’s beginning is Eroico as Beethoven at his noblest, but the Olympian resignation after an early climax seems Wagnerian indeed, the Wotan of Walkuere act 3 has been borrowed for Bruckner’s cause. The A flat theme of the violins, counterpart to that ineffably haunting idea in the opening movement, is spacious as can be, we’re a very long way from the honk and hurly-burly of 57th and Seventh. But this Dr. Klemperer is a fist-shaker, this adagio is not only slower but more vehement than some, the work of a front-line combatant in the espressivo wars more than a detached philosopher.
And Whew! we need a change after being so moved. Reverse five years to Berlin where Klemperer was recording lollipops with the Staatskapelle: try his enchanting Belle Hélène overture by Offenbach, done in echt-operetta style with long humming upbeats, sinuous melody, the lightest touch, fond and sly. The conducting of a great lover, perhaps . . .
Not unexpectedly the main line of German symphonic thought is represented in the earliest chapter of Klemperer’s discography, there’s major Beethoven, Brahms and Wagner. We don’t expect him to focus on Bellinian arcadias or the meanders of Saint-Saens concertos. But beware of the tendency to typecast conductors of German origin, as if they could digest only sausages. We musn’t overlook the Klempererean versatility that fueled – in the Twenties and the Fifties — fascinating performances of such community symphonic properties as key works by Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, Shostakovich. Debussy’s Nuages recorded with the Staatskapelle in 1926 is affectingly plaintive and fragile, calling to mind as does a Furtwaengler recording the crossing of musical wires in Debussy’s workshop that makes us associate these Clouds with the delicious nebulousness of Pelléas et Mélisande. The music might be cruising above a North Atlantic, say, with all the 707’s engines out, only that deficiency just doesn’t matter, we’re not in the real world anymore. An interesting meteorological quirk of this recording, not entirely due, I’m sure, to lax engineering, is the virtual thunder clap of the timpani at bar 7, the timpani’s trill marked ppp in the score but a mezzo forte or more in Klemperer’s apparent estimation. I don’t recall hearing this effect in any other performance. While certainly not worth a constitutional amendment it is an effective alternative to standard Debussyan procedure, a cracklet as Nabokov might put it, of doom.
No less atmospherical-dramatical is Klemperer’s 1926 Alborado del Gracioso of Ravel, so languorous and, in the suggestive thickets of the moody central section, dangerous! And then from the same year there’s perhaps the loveliest Siegfried Idyl of Wagner I know, one long line of tenderness.
Charm is not a word that generally zooms to the top of the chart when one recalls the conducting of Otto Klemperer, but his Beethoven First from Berlin 1924 — still made with the acoustical as opposed to electrical process – is so gemuetlich it seems to spring from a sidewalk café table more than a concert stage. The Germans may have been carrying their money around in wheelbarrows, inflation was so dire, but music-making-wise this was still an age of beautiful innocence. Try as it might the Great War and the tangle of problems in its wake could not kill off the long upbeat, the juicy little rubato, the feeling-no-pain phrase, all those ingredients of a laidback and supremely civilized performance of a classic symphony, graceful and wise, with yes, a bit of pathos here and there. It was, for Klemperer and his brethren, so easy to r-e-l-a-x on the podium, with no sacrifice of an underlying efficiency that knew like the butler or maid to stay in the background.
Beethoven’s first symphony opens in harmonic left field, on the dominant seventh of the subdominant of C major if you want to know why the music seems somewhat uncertain, as if to ask, “Really?”. . . Klemperer capitalizes on this questioning mode in a sweet, intimate and recurrently “lost” introduction, moving thence into an allegro con brio which is lively for sure but takes its time from the start, only to indulge, organically, in supreme dawdles at the beginning of the second subject, very dainty and quite coquettish in this instance, and again a little later on when, bar 77, the basses legato their way to the depths in a curling pianissimo, making way for a statement from the oboe which even on the stark page of a printed score seems long-breathed indeed.
Such dawdling in this piece, although still fearlessly pursued by a Mengelberg in the Forties — and sometimes welcomed home so to speak by crusading individualists of the current day — became utterly démodé in mid-century as literalist critics plied their trade. And that state of affairs has some bearing on the fact that the opening movement of Klemperer’s 1924 First (figuring in a non-existant repeat of the exposition) consumes ten seconds more time than even the slowest of the four Klemperer versions from the period 1956 to 1968.
As I noted a few paragraphs back Klemperer’s “studio” allegros tended late in his career, when he had maximal gramophonic exposure thanks to the tyrannical record producer Walter Legge handing him the gorgeous Philharmonia, London’s best, on a silver platter, to take a different tack (slower!) from his “live” allegros, and his earlier, monaural “studio” allegros as well, this split being especially true from mid-1956 when some sort of intermittent metabolic crossing of the Rubicon in matters of tempo on the part of this sly dog of the podium occurred, only to be totally fathomed, I suppose, by some professor at a hallowed medical school. In any case, Klemperer’s “studio” Philharmonia Beethoven First from ’57 claims an opening movement clocking in at 9:46, while three “live” versions may be tabulated as follows:
Torino 1956: 9:26
Vienna (with the Philharmonia from London) 1960: 9:23
London 1968: 9:12
Heavens, Dr. Klemperer was speeding to his grave.
Look at the lab report of Klemperer’s Beethoven discography and we see that a “live” opening movement of the Fourth from Vienna 1960 is a minute and twelve seconds faster than a “studio” recording dated 1957, that a “live” Vienna 1960 opening movement of the Seventh is similarly faster by a minute and twenty four seconds than a “studio” version also from ’60 — and almost identical in speed with a “studio” performance from pre-Rubicon 1955. So far so good. Meanwhile I have to admit that in the opening movement of the Eighth our interesting Otto remained within a Procrustean four seconds variance in all three of his autumnal recordings: “live” at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw ’56 and Vienna ’60 as well as the “studio” version of ’57 — does this say something in particular about the Eighth? Who knows? Meanwhile, back-on-track Klemperer’s “live” first movements of the Ninth from ’60 and ’64 are both somewhat faster than his “studio” go from ’57.
Now from the Berlin of Weimar Republic days the Jewish Klemperer had to make a quick exit. And luckily he fell right into a new job, musical director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, in succession to Artur Rodzinski that estimable orchestra builder. Not a bad post at all, and here it is that Klemperer who’d been laboring mostly in opera houses built up his symphonic repertoire: the Franck symphony, Berlioz’ Fantastique, the Sibelius First, new works of Schoenberg and Roy Harris. For many years his Los Angeles period, rudely interrupted by neurosurgery in ’39, was a gramophonic blank as there were no commercial recordings from Pershing Square or other Southland venues, but relatively recent boutique issues have allowed us to step into the Time Machine and experience this budding middle-aged symphonist at work in his new habitat – a place, by the way, this “huge village” Los Angeles, which spreads horizontally like Berlin and which he quite liked (“there is so much here to be thankful for”) only, as he wrote home from an idyllic cabin by the sea, “something is missing – what could it be?”
Well, Santa Monica drive-ins weren’t exactly Charlottenburg cafes!
In Berlin they called Klemperer the Tiergarten Volcano, so lively a fellow he was on the Kroll Oper podium. Well, find more than an echo of that old exhilaration across from the Biltmore Hotel in downtown L.A., the date is 1-1-38 and he’s lighting into the allegro con spirito of Mozart’s Haffner at around 88 to the minute when 76 or 80 is not uncommon, and at bars 7 and 9 he nudges those half notes-leaning-into-eighths with unaccustomed but characterful little accents. Many are the conductors who stress the ceremonial in the Haffner’s opening rather than the near-furioso, but not our émigré Klemperer, his is a flying, fizzy account, and who could resist it? Spirit Mozart wants, spirit Mozart gets. Listen here to the genial conductor Constant Lambert who wrote in his peppy little Music Ho, around 1933: “Those present-day critics who see in Mozart nothing but a glorified craftsman making a concord of sweet sounds in a spirit of angelic detachment offer convincing proof of their complete insensitiveness to all save the purely stylistic aspects of music.” And in the andante that follows Klemperer is the soul of worldly debonair — here we experience a soupcon of the old Berlin violin tone, sweet, private, gemuetlich, heard in his Beethoven First of ’24, a tone audible, in a somewhat grander context, in the 1930 Bayreuth recording of Tannhaeuser conducted by the underrated Karl Elmendorff.
Also from the L.A. years: a relaxed and soaring Benvenuto Cellini overture of Berlioz, presumably new repertoire for Klemperer (1-1-38), and, from exactly four years earlier, a concert in Pasadena, a cleverly-structured Meistersinger first act prelude basking in the tension of unashamedly shifting tempo, passionate passing inflections, subtle rubati, all in the service of a bubbling casserole of ardor-comedy-vibrance-pomposity-spontaneity. This is one of the most important Klemperer documents extant, a performance driving without crash helmet, air bag and all the trimmings along a challenging sonic highway and giving us a trip any adventure travel consultant would be happy to sign us up for. I could, I suppose, tell you where a number of the delicious “details” are, but there’d be no more point than trying to separate the flavors in Monsieur Troisgros’ mussel soup.
The fact is, Wagner’s printed score is a whole Macy’s basement of tempos and weights and refinements thereof, all this to deal with his vision for a prelude that can run from seven-and-change to ten minutes or more. On the very first page he asks, simultaneously, for very moderate, very sustained, very strong. Choices, choices. And there are numerous requests along the way for tender, espressivo, the and’s and but’s of a composer who might in some quarters be labeled a control freak. Curious how few conductors follow Klemperer ‘34 in taking very seriously indeed Wagner’s sehr gehalten when, page 9 of the full score, the theme of the Meister strides across those parting bar lines. A couple good reasons for doing so: to see those smug, linear burghers making their Entrance, or, a more abstract consideration this, to simply enjoy the aesthetical balancing act of a changing symphonic roadbed. Oh how lovely the semantic minefield of musical interpretation!
Now did you know that Dr. Klemperer stooped to Puccini, accompanying Lucrezia Bori and Joseph Bentonelli in the arias and duet closing the first act of La Boheme, 6-6-37 at the Hollywood Bowl? Except that he obviously found his assignment congenial.
Now a sforzando! In a life of watersheds one of the scariest for Klemperer came in 1939 with major brain surgery. In its wake he was left more manic than ever, getting in one or another scrape with the police as his life divided vertiginously in a manner that might have appealed to the pen of Robert Louis Stevenson. Job-wise he was like a man without a country, very few organizations would hire him. Mental illness, you know, freaks bystanders out, ask any survivor who’s been clinically depressed for more than three days. But there he is on a 1942 aircheck from WQXR New York, conducting Fritz Stiedry’s New Friends of Music (networking of two old Berliners here, that must have been the case) in Bach’s Suite No. 2 for flute and strings, with John Wummer. And behold, the old volcano is still spouting lava, here on the side street of chamber orchestra land. The first movement allegro is breezy and insistent, an invigorating swim in counterpoint’s clear stream commanding us to feel good. “More, more,” we hear the proto-anarchic Klemperer urging the musicians as he nears the allegro repeat. This bellowing does not preclude warm, soaring slow movements, not without mystery.
Then all seems well back at the Hollywood Bowl summer of ’45 as Klemperer ejects a Fledermaus overture that has that Old Berlin feel, l-o-n-g upbeats and all; while that city having turned from Jekyll to Hyde so to speak lies in ruins. . But this 60-year-old wreck tall as a Globetrotter needed to be re-invented, Discovered! The first big step was an invitation to conduct regularly at the Budapest Opera and luckily radio engineers were at work to document some of the abundant fruits of this guarded yet feisty comeback. The volcano was willing. My desert island pick would be act 3 of the Meistersinger dated 4-11-49. It’s doubtful the merrymaking of the big final scene has ever sounded more rustic and prankish. The delightful hooliganism of it all, a state of affairs with which the manic Otto could identify, we suspect, only too well. And the detail! The dance of the apprentices is sawing and jabbing away when, fifth bar of page 410 of the Eulenberg score, the music catches on a little Klemperer volume drop, not un-Bruno Walter-like, which is passed in a special moment from oboes to violins, wistfulness seizing the upper hand as cellos and violas pick up the thread, the tempo a little slower now. Then a rattling good magnetization to a procession of the Meister which, in Klemperer’s loose-but-tidy phrasing, sounds almost ad lib, as if those arbiters of singing contest do’s and don’t’s preferred not to be scrutinized too closely.
Also saved for posterity is a sweet and incisive Budapest Lohengrin that stops in its tracks after In Fernem Land as Klemperer resists, as long as he safely can, the pandemonial insistence of the audience that the tenor, Jozsef Simandy, sing an encore.
All right, a quarter century of gramophonic Klemperer and where are we in 1949? For my money he is still, exterior lameness aside, exactly the same conductor he was in 1924, an expert in mood and accent, a performer who knows the values of tension and laidbackness alike. And he’s reminding us of that curious fact that creative juices often continue to simmer imaginatively along deep subterranean tracks even as, upstairs in the real world, a person’s life seems to be in tatters. Now the next twenty years will bring something of a split interpretive personality requiring from sympathetic observers a sorting out. But this is also the era in which, thanks to that huge shelf of “studio” recordings with the Philharmonia Orchestra (only part of his interpretive legacy, of course) and perhaps too the monumental crustiness of his gaunt figure seen in EMI/Angel publicity he became the next thing to a household word in gramophone land. Klemperer’s medical history during the Fifties reads like a catalog aria sung by some morbid cousin of Leporello: broken hip, perforated appendix, acute bronchitis, hearing of one ear impaired, the ongoing manic depressive condition, etcetc. To crave a podium and be sent to bed, that was Klemperer’s cross. But he beat the odds again and again.
Budapest is all very fine, a lovely city with an exuberant opera company not to speak of hills, baths and goulash, but Amsterdam, where the Concertgebouw was issuing Klemperer invitations from the late Forties, was a much plummier destination on the conductorial circuit. Zero in on the Holland Festival 7-6-51, doubtless a warm night in the old city, the sun not quite set, taxis rushing to the hall, and Klemperer is presiding over an extraordinary performance of Mahler’s Second which might be considered the opening shot in his New Career, the proclamation of his emancipation from the shadows.
This is the same orchestra one hears on historical broadcasts conducted by its musical director Eduard van Beimum but under Klemperer the sound is fiercer, sharper, brighter, like aluminum at high noon. Not a trace of hardness in this performance, but what intensity! Still the old Klemperer. The opening is brisk, biting, scrappy, it seizes you, the orchestra is like slashes in a Franz Kline painting. Then the lyric second theme almost trembles. But very easygoing, writes Mahler of the second movement — Klemperer obliges, he can do that so well. The scherzo movement swings, the E major trumpet solo in the trio is radiant, penetrating. Kathleen Ferrier is of course the soul of the music in the Urlicht. In the finale the main theme with its Dies Irae connection dances in the woodwind on the head of an orchestral pin, and the vast crescendo of gongs and drums taking the development into F minor is terrifying. The chorus enters, the music rolls, the orchestra BURSTS as in a Stokowski gig. The music ends, we wipe our brows.
But the emancipation almost didn’t happen. In 1953 Klemperer was not only in shaky health but short of money and not in sync with the passport authorities. In Los Angeles he consulted his old psychiatrist from the Forties who wrote in his notes: “His one wish is to lie down and not to work.” One shudders to think what would have happened if Klemperer had given in to this clinical depression. Just as one shudders to remember that, a decade earlier, he was almost committed to a mental hospital where he might have languished for the rest of his life, a mind locked on an infinite ladder of diminished sevenths consigned to a luftpause without end.
To the rescue early in’54 came not only the dictatorial but sympathetic Walter Legge, mastermind of London’s elegant Philharmonia, but an old colleague of Klemperer’s from Berlin days, Eigel Kruttge, who invited him to conduct the West German Radio Orchestra in Cologne, part of the new network of excellent radio ensembles set in motion by the far-seeing occupying forces of that day. Klemperer also had an engagement in Essen where he arrived for the concert supported on a stick and had to be seriously helped, almost dropped, onto the podium chair. But when the music began . . . as the faithful Herr Kruttge could tell in a moment, the “Klemper-eur” of the Twenties was still a force. Just slightly different . . . Listen to the first movement of the WDR Eroica from ’54 and we hear the New Klemperer who will, in a couple years, split into a curious pair of New Klemperers. This newness is not radical, here is the nice hello of a sunny and powerful Eroica, Beethoven’s allegro con brio launched at a base tempo a little below 50 beats to the minute, a choice putting Klemperer in much good company – never mind that the mad spaniel Beethoven asked for 60! But the sound is a tad heavier than before, the style somehow simpler. A survivor’s Eroica. Also the Eroica of a man whose joints are stiffer than before, just as his mind is seemingly bright as the new penny in the coin-dealer’s window.
But I’ve never been able to figure if this slightly arthritic quality – not to be thought of pejoratively! — was something pressed on the players from the podium chair or whether it was the only way they could react to his beat. Well, he could have emitted smoke signals from his pipe and they would have given an estimable performance.
Now Klemperer will settle in Zurich, strategically close to the lake and the opera house in this city of sausages and sense, he’ll become a German citizen again and fall heir to unexpected pensions, his daughter will make sure his gigs are major. And there are more Eroicas: the first is the mono “studio” version with the Philharmonia dated 1955. In the first movement the tempo is fractionally slower, with a little elbow room up or down from tempo primo as before, this for light touches of retardation or poco animato not notated in the score but graceful to apply. An airy and relaxed Eroica opener this, quite substantial in tone, it’s a close cousin to the “live” product of the year before although running about 15:41 rather than 15:08. Grandeur and ordered flow, an elegant thrust, wisdom in its bones, reserves of power in the tank: that’s the formula. And who was listening? Well, a young fellow named Colin Davis for one: his recording a decade later with the BBC Symphony seems a reverent salute to this particular Old Man.
Next in our Eroica flight is the “live” performance with the Royal Danish Opera orchestra in Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens concert hall 4-26-57. Yes, a big sound here and the transparency one expects from the Klemperer of this period, but this performance is more spontaneous than either the ’54 or ’55, even the word impulsive might with some accuracy be pulled off the shelf. It’s almost as if the Old Klemperer had slipped out of New Klemperer’s boots and might throw that support stick into the audience. So he wasn’t, like the Kaiser in Frau Ohne Schatten, about to be turned to stone! Back to almost 50 beats-to-the-minute and an allegro con brio timing around 15:12, the Danish version certainly has more wind in its sails than the “studio” production of ’55. The lusty penetration of the orchestra’s brass reminds of the Concertgebouw-machismo in Klemperer’s Mahler vintage ’51, the near-boisterousness of the solo winds recalls Stokowski’s All American Youth Orchestra! And then, you know, Tivoli Gardens is quite a joyous place, with children’s rides and tournedos béarnaise and all the trimmings.
By 1957 Klemperer was as you know more likely than not to choose a slower allegro in the “studio” than on the concert stage and his ’59 EMI Eroica with a first movement timing of 16:28 (!) – set your metronome at 44 beats and prepare for passages a little slower than that — is tailor made to bolster that statement. I’m afraid we’ll never know exactly why Klemperer favored this split: a “studio” situation is not a set of speed bumps and his remark that he did “concerts” for himself and “records” for his daughter doesn’t satisfactorily explain the difference. But artists must be left to their mysteries. Sometimes they don’t even know exactly what they’ve wrought. Schopenhauer sayeth: musicians on the Klemperer level are interpreters “of the profoundest wisdom speaking a language which reason cannot understand.”
Statistics aside, this stereo version from EMI is one of the greatest achievements in the whole Klemperer oeuvre. Far from pedantic, the ’59 allegro con brio is certainly more controlled than spontaneous, but the author of its concept has removed himself several stages upward to an Olympus where a zenith of serenity is easily accessible. Sarastro might be in charge. And Beethoven is heard from a different angle, the music moving in the clear air where you can see forever. This is no podium couch potato’s 44 beats to the minute, this is a New Dimension.
And for me a couple of later “live” Eroicas, faster of course in the opening movement but one of them not so much – these from Vienna 1960 and Philadelphia 1962 — are less particulier than either the Copenhagen romp or this amazing recording from ’59.
Back to the opera house, Covent Garden 3-7-61, for a Beethoven Fidelio. Klemperer has returned to earth in a curiously homely and dogged overture in which he seems to dodge the question of what does this music mean, does it identify with the danger to come or align with the opera’s perky singspiel elements – although, truth to tell, the opening skirmish between Marzelline and Jacquino can be staged very convincingly as much more anguished than a cute duet involving soubrette soprano and tenor buffo. Then with the curtain’s rise Klemperer awakes, he finds the undoubted musical charm in that early duet, the duettists interplaying with slashing crispness, he uncoils the great quartet with a tender hand, he easily finds the sprightliness in Rocco’s money song, he produces a boiling agitato for the villain’s scene, he has the prisoners’ chorus gliding on wings of thanks . . . and re the overture, my friends, you must experience the military, paternal and domestic notes so nimbly struck by Bernard Haitink in a broadly-paced Zurich Opera performance from 2008 which, while lighterweight and more methodical, can be eerily redolent of elderly Otto at his 110 pct. unflappable best. Ah, who was that towering ghost I thought I saw by the lake as I hurried to Sturmer’s for bratwurst before the opera?
Now in the Sixties with daughter Lotte’s help Klemperer was writing his own ticket. These were, relatively speaking, good years in a life that had moved like a novel, a fat one, across great spaces and through momentous traumas, zigzags of destiny. He conducted the Philharmonia in London, the Berlin Philharmonic, he renewed a sketchy association with his favorite orchestra the Vienna Philharmonic in a series of six grand concerts including Mahler’s Ninth. The night of 3-11-69 my wife and I were at Covent Garden for a revival of the ‘61 Fidelio, Klemperer again in the pit. Sitting far back in the stalls we couldn’t see who was on the podium, the conductor was sitting down of course, but we felt the earth moving in the big crescendos, the 83-year-old Klemperer was surely there.
A curiosity of Late Klemperer days is his 5-23-69 broadcast of Mendelssohn’s Scotch Symphony with the Bavarian Radio Orchestra. Curious because the allegro maestoso coda in the finale with its exultant tune in the major is simply not there. Instead: a musing fantasia on the movement’s airy and rather enigmatic second theme in solemn strings, distant horns, then a great hymnic pileup of broken chords, rather imperious in their tall A-C-E-A, metaphor in A minor for Old Klemperer. Is this an ascension or an entombment? We pray it’s the former. But this is a prevailingly upbeat and endearing Scotch. No highland grass is allowed to grow under the feet of the kindly, luminous andante con moto introduction. The succeeding allegro un poco agitato (later assai animato) is slow all right, especially so considering this is a “live” performance, but relaxedly so, as if Klemperer were sharing Mendelssohn’s North Country vacation with his listeners. And my how transparent! The quietly rolling E minor theme toward exposition’s end is more a lullaby than ever. The scherzo, nominally assai vivace, is no racehorse either, but the soul of geniality.
. . . And when, in his later years, interviewers asked Klemperer about those slow tempos, he was likely to reply, tongue possibly not in cheek, “I hadn’t noticed they were slower.”
We haven’t mentioned Klemperer’s Brahms! I would treasure it if for nothing more than his phrasing of that choralic progression in the poco sostenuto coda of the Third symphony’s finale, this in a “studio” Philharmonia recording of 3-27-57. Brass and wind carry the line, piano dolce, and Klemperer by establishing slight pauses between half note and succeeding whole, this pattern repeated several times, Dee // Deeeee, Dee // Deeeee, gives Brahms’ chords a unique stateliness, a genially judicial air. The music is arranged in pillars, like the great temple at Segesta.