A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Overture, Op.21 & Incidental Music, Op.61
Symphony No.8 in F, Op.93
[Symphony No.4 in B flat, Op.60: rehearsal excerpt]
Käthe Müller-Siepermann (soprano) & Hanna Ludwig (mezzo-soprano); Kölner Rundfunkchor [Mendelssohn]
Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester [Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra]
Recorded in Saal 1, Funkhaus, Cologne – 9-11 June 1955 (Mendelssohn), 28 May 1955 (Beethoven 8) & 25 October 1954 (rehearsal)
Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson
Reviewed: November 2011
CD No: ICA CLASSICS ICAC 5047
Duration: 73 minutes
The selections included in performances of Mendelssohn’s music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream tends to vary slightly. Otto Klemperer’s choices are quite close to that of the 1877 Breitkopf & Härtel edition. I don’t hear an ophicleide which is specified in the Overture and ‘Dance of the Clowns’ (but then I didn’t really expect to).
The opening radiant bars of the Overture are very encouraging – it is notoriously difficult to get the wind chords together and in tune but here they are immaculate. The orchestral playing throughout is sympathetic and above all delicate where necessary. I suppose I should mention the false woodwind entry four minutes into the Overture but this is a mere passing oddity. Klemperer and gentility have not always gone together but here his subtle treatment of the many graceful passages is admirable and the vocal soloists have a delightful lightness of timbre. Here is a score abounding in fairies and is sometimes-magically played by musicians clearly in sympathy with this expertly written ‘Incidental Music’.
Klemperer in Mendelssohn is always interesting. I recall his astonishing recording of the ‘Italian’ Symphony on Vox with its world-speed-record finale. It was wild and so fast that the Vienna Symphony Orchestra simply could not play all the notes – but it was thrilling and entirely convincing. By 1955 we already find Klemperer conducting Mendelssohn in a considered way – impulse is there but without haste. The ‘Scherzo’ is rather slower than is often the case yet subtlety is still the essence of his approach. Altogether the Cologne orchestra acquits itself admirably throughout and the horns are very precise in the extremely demanding ‘Nocturne’. By the way, some movements extraordinarily foreshadow the choral and orchestral writing of Sir Arthur Sullivan.
I have suggested that at the time of these recordings there was beginning to be greater breadth in Klemperer’s interpretations. Beethoven 8 is given an unhurried reading (and I have heard broader ones of his from later on). This was around the time when one of the few versions available was a taping by Paul van Kempen which was presented on that archaic format: the ten-inch LP. The spacious conception included an exceptionally deliberate finale, which came over with great conviction. Klemperer is less measured but there is always room for immense amounts of detail. A good example is at the big climax that summarises the development section of the first movement where the main melody is played by bassoons and lower strings and has to be heard against the forceful high harmonies held by all the violins and violas and marked fff. This is a good test of insight – not all conductors present this section with certainty and the melody can get buried: Klemperer is particularly successful here and on a par with distinguished recordings by Schmidt-Isserstedt, Böhm and Monteux. Generous and confident, Klemperer’s performance moves firmly forward with no whimsical phrasing or any spurious tempo adjustments – such as at the end of the opening movement, as perceptively mentioned in the booklet note. Once again the horns are admirable: the Trio section of the Minuet really blooms.
The rehearsal excerpt (Klemperer speaking in German of course) lasts less than two minutes and features the end of Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony. It is a mere trifle but is long enough to show the orchestra in good-humoured mood. The mono sound on this release is of decent broadcast quality; the dynamics are rather narrow but the balance is excellent. Altogether this is a useful memento of Otto Klemperer early in the ‘Indian Summer’ of his career.