Beethoven, Dvorak, Mozart, Schubert, Johann Strauss II, Josef Strauss, Richard Strauss
Reviewed by: Bill Newman
Reviewed: August 2002
CD No: IMG Artists CZS 5 75115 2 (2 CDs)
The amazing consistency of Kleiber’s conducting marks him as one of the finest professionals on the musical scene between the 1920s and the 1950s.
The lucidity of his stick technique matched the eloquence of his readings, and I find it difficult to understand why there has been a cautious attitude in making many of his recorded performances available to the public. With the exception of his Decca recordings, those that have been released are poor in quality, but the live recording of Borodin’s Second Symphony with the NBC Orchestra should be on CD.
I experienced much enjoyment listening to this GC release. Schubert’s Symphony No.5 with the NDR Symphony is beautifully balanced throughout, a lyrical reading, finely proportioned in a classic-romantic mode that never falls into the trap of sounding dull and prosaic.
Beethoven’s ’Pastoral’ Symphony, like the famous Decca Concertgebouw recording, is gloriously fresh and spontaneous. Kleiber must have been a favourite with the Czech Philharmonic – this 1955 performance appearing for the first time – because one is aware that every player is listening to one another, intent on achieving a perfect tonal integration that gives as much satisfaction to the players as to the conductor. The choice of tempi has much to do with this – the first movement childlike, bubbling with good humour, the second full of gentle devotion, winds and strings dovetailing, the third playful – interrupted by the storm episode, which somehow sounds as if it were expected in the normal course of events – and the final song of thanksgiving is all-embracing, swelling gradually to climactic peaks just before the serene close.
If Kleiber’s Mozart 40 with the London Philharmonic, a 1949 Kingsway Hall recording, sounds slightly severe by comparison, this is because of its straightforward correctness. A year before, Dvorak’s Carnival Overture with the same forces is spine-tingling. And how well he persuades the LPO to bring out the schmaltz of Josef Strauss’s Music of the Spheres and Johann II’s Gypsy Baron overture.
Kleiber is quite masterly in the other Strauss – Richard – Till Eulenspiegel with the North German players. Today’s conductors with their supposed virtuoso labels embellished on their name-tabs would do well to study how Kleiber manages to ’beat the clock’ at 13’34” and still sound unhurried with every note and dynamic marking firmly in place!