Klemperer’s Brahms Symphonies – EMI

0 of 5 stars

Symphony No.1 in C minor, Op.68
Symphony No.2 in D, Op.73
Symphony No.3 in F, Op.90
Symphony No.4 in E minor, Op.98
Academic Festival Overture, Op.80
Rhapsody for contralto, male chorus and orchestra, Op.53
Tragic Overture, Op.81
Variations on the St Anthony Chorale, Op.56a

Christa Ludwig (mezzo-soprano)

Philharmonia Chorus

Philharmonia Orchestra
Otto Klemperer

Recorded between 1954 and 1962 in Kingsway Hall, London

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: March 2004
CD No: EMI 5627422 (3 CDs)

This is certainly this cycle’s third appearance on CD and is more than justified in now being included on EMI’s “Great Recordings of the Century” series. Do owners of previous transfers need to re-invest in these GROCs? Well, probably not if you have the Klemperer Edition pressings: the GROC re-mastering is dated 1999 and, I assume, were used in the Edition. The transfers I own, on EMI’s Studio label, are from 1989 and are somewhat eclipsed by these GROCs; there’s not much in it though, albeit the latest versions sound ’less old’ with detail more sparkling and tangible. Certainly worth the upgrade.

More importantly the performances are timeless in their greatness. After a wonderfully invigorating account of the St Anthony Variations (1954, mono), the symphonies are monumental, ruggedly honest and humane. Klemperer’s architectural majesty is second to none, and with an imperious sense of fundamental trenchancy and textural luminosity, which features forwardly balanced woodwinds, a clear bass line (double basses on the left and heavy brass on the right), and such clarity is further blessed with antiphonal violins. The Philharmmonia Orchestra’s response is innate.

Klemperer’s unvarnished but heartfelt traversals of these masterworks stimulate again one’s enthusiasm for this music. Indeed, I had forgotten just how satisfying these 1956/7 recordings are. I was bowled over. So too with Christa Ludwig’s deeply intense Alto Rhapsody, and one can only chuckle at the bassoons’ buffoonery from 4’09” in the Academic Festival Overture.

I am reminded of Brahms’s friend Schumann’s four symphonies and that the EMI GROC catalogue also has Wolfgang Sawallisch’s magnificent Dresden versions of that hallowed repertoire. Meanwhile, Klemperer’s magisterial Brahms is with us again – and sounds marvellous.

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