Symphony No.5 in C minor, Op.67
Symphony No.7 in A, Op.92
Mono recordings from 1955 both recorded in October and December in Kingsway Hall, London: Symphony No.5 issued on Columbia 33C 1051; Symphony No.7 on Columbia 33CX 1379
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: March 2007
CD No: NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.111248
Duration: 74 minutes
With a superbly judged transfer from Mark Obert-Thorn that ensures clarity, fulsome tone and no degradation of sonic information, Otto Klemperer’s weighty and significant accounts of these two different but mighty symphonies take on a new lease of life at budget price but with no compromise of presentational excellence.
In this current age, when Beethoven symphonies have tended to be cut from the same metronomic cloth, textural lucidity being the watchword as the music flies forward, it’s a revitalising tonic to be presented with Klemperer’s spacious readings that have so much depth and splendour – and no lack of instrumental clarity. These are his mono performances from 1955 (there was an ‘Eroica’ from around the same time, all made for Columbia/EMI), symphonies that Klemperer would re-record for this label in stereo as part of a complete Beethoven cycle. On balance, these earlier versions are preferable to the later ones, and this mono Seventh preferable to its stereo equivalent (some takes are different, the two-channel version lacking the same degree of tautness of the monaural version: we may lose Klemperer’s use of antiphonal violins, but we sense such division).
In essence, these time-taken accounts have a feeling of ‘rightness’ about them, a journey undertaken in which a sense of direction is always apparent, Klemperer’s unvarnished approach applying no particular dogma and his keen sense of structure ensuring a riveting musical experience from beginning to end in both works. The Fifth (with outer movement repeats in place) has a grandeur and gravitas that is deeply satisfying, while the Seventh (repeats in short supply, but convincingly so; indeed, Klemperer’s version is as long as those by conductors who are much quicker in tempo and with all repetitions in place!) has a lyrical grace as well as a rhythmic vitality – the result is tensile strength that binds the whole rather more perceptively than the foot-down romp that this work can often be reduced to; the slow march-tread of the Allegretto opens up heights of eloquence.
Klemperer’s largesse adds infinitely to the soul of the music. The mono sound is excellent in its space and focus – and while the orchestra’s size and sound, and Klemperer’s deliberation, may not be what Beethoven would have imagined in his own time, it does represent what the music developed into: somehow one feels closer to Beethoven’s ‘message’ when delivered through Klemperer’s trenchancy.