Medici Masters – Erich Kleiber/Beethoven

0 of 5 stars

Symphony No.5 in C minor, Op.67
Symphony No.6 in F, Op.68 (Pastoral)

Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester [Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra]
Erich Kleiber

Recorded on 4 April 1955 in the Funkhaus, Saal 1, WDR Cologne

Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: August 2007
Duration: 75 minutes

Erich Kleiber, one of the 20th-century’s greatest conductors, made commercial recordings of both these symphonies and this Cologne account of the Fifth is also on Music & Arts. Is the sound good enough on this Medici release and is Kleiber’s conception of the works sufficiently different from the Concertgebouw Orchestra recordings he made for Decca? Certainly in Cologne the Fifth is even more powerful than in Amsterdam and despite some less than perfect playing, the performance does demand to be heard by all connoisseurs of great conducting.

I am not sure that the same can be said of the ‘Pastoral’. For Kleiber in 1952 the Concertgebouw Orchestra provided the most refined playing I have heard in this work. There is purity of tone, weight, transparency, immaculate ensemble and brilliant individuality from the woodwinds – the sound glows. By contrast the Cologne forces sometimes sound ragged and insecure. Movement timings are remarkably similar, until the last movement, where around 90 seconds is added in Cologne. In the first movement, somewhat surprisingly, given his usual diligence, Kleiber omits the exposition repeat. In compensation the music breathes contentedly, with nuanced string and woodwind phrasing. But with the Concertgebouw Orchestra there is an added sense of serene spontaneity to the music-making. The same can be said of the ‘Scene by the Brook’: an aura of profound ease and yet flowing motion is imparted via perfect tempo, dynamic and tonal shading and rubato. Yet, once again, it is the Concertgebouw players who give an object lesson in relaxed, yet beautifully responsive execution, with the woodwinds excelling: orchestral playing simply doesn’t come any better than this.

In the last movement there is a change of emphasis: both are symphonic, sentimentality isn’t allowed, but in Cologne Kleiber gloriously caresses every phrase. In both performances there is absolute conviction and that almost-defunct quality in ‘modern’ Beethoven conducting, spirituality. Whether in Cologne or Amsterdam, this is Beethoven conducting totally beyond the ken of the likes of Abbado, Gardiner, Harnoncourt, Norrington and Zinman.

Sound-wise, in the Fifth the Medici and Music & Arts transfers both suffer what sounds like added reverberation, but there is far more detail in the latter, which means that the woodwinds and brass are clearer. The Medici ‘Pastoral’ is better, with tighter definition and natural weight. I suppose that here I am meant to say buy this one or that one. Well I’m afraid you need all three releases. The Fifth sounds better on Music & Arts and you get a great “Missa solemnis”. The Decca has a superb ‘Pastoral’ with playing to die for while the Cologne Sixth has that wonderful last movement.

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