Symphony No.3 in E flat (Eroica)
Overture Leonore No.1
Overture Leonore No.2
Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Otto Klemperer
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: March 2002
CD No: EMI CDM 5 67740 2
If asked to name the greatest examples of Klemperer conducting Beethoven, I would cite Fidelio (EMI) and the live ’Choral’ Symphony (Testament). I’m inclined to add this 1955 ’Eroica’. Mono it might be, and this is ruinous to Klemperer’s antiphonal violins (although their distinct parts are readily audible), for it commands attention from the very beginning. Klemperer’s sense of organic growth and structural delineation holds the listener in the same vice-like grip; Klemperer’s humanity allows the music to yield and affect the senses – architecture and sensibility balanced to noble cause.
Of course, Klemperer and the Philharmonia re-made their Eroica a few years later in stereo as part of a complete symphony cycle. Fine though that version is, it isn’t quite as untrammelled; here one is in the company of a driver absolutely secure of the route and with a sense of expression that is at once absolute and timeless. Although timings are similar – excepting the ’Funeral March’ that is two minutes longer in stereo – there is a sweep and logic in the earlier reading that is inexorable. The funeral oration here is as moving as it is stark.
Richard Osborne, in his booklet note, suggests that Klemperer’s omission of the exposition repeat is untypical and determined by not wanting an LP side-break during the ’Funeral March’. While it is true that Klemperer was usually generous with repeats in Beethoven, I have never heard an ’Eroica’ from him with the exposition repeated. This includes several ’pirate’ CDs of live performances where LP length would not have been an issue. In any case, one does not miss the repeat with Klemperer, his omission of it to do with ’interpretation’ than outside technicalities.
The overtures (1954) are dramatically relayed. Pregnant with atmosphere, their Fidelio-linked theatricality is vividly presented. The earlier Leonore No.1 offers a startling contrast of mobility with the stereo version, while No.2 never looks back in its thrilling trajectory to triumph.
Apart from a well-managed if ambience-changing edit at 9’05” come the ’false’ horn entry in the symphony’s first movement (what a place to cut and paste!), the Kingsway Hall sound is airy and detailed; certainly the woodwinds are always clear, and their clarity is a Klemperer hallmark.