Medici Masters – Erich Kleiber (Mozart)

0 of 5 stars

Symphony No.39 in E flat, K543
Oboe Concerto in C, K314
German Dances [Selection from K600, K602 & K605]
Symphony No.36 in C, K425 (Linz)

Also included is a 5-minute rehearsal sequence for Symphony No.39

Lothar Faber (oboe)

Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester [Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra]
Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart [K425]
Erich Kleiber

All except the Linz Symphony recorded in the Funkhaus, Saal 1, WDR Cologne on 20 January 1956; the Linz recorded on 31 December 1955 in Stuttgart

Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson

Reviewed: September 2007
Duration: 80 minutes



Symphony 39 and the Dances were issued many years ago on Decca Ace of Clubs ACL-R 226 coupled with Weber’s First Symphony. It gives the broadcast date as 21 January 1956, so it seems that the recording was made the day before the transmission. Medici Arts has immensely improved the sound, although the quality never rises above that heard in adequate broadcasts of the time where all the instruments are clearly audible but there is no great immediacy or colour. Considering that we are hearing one of the great conductors of the 20th-century, it is sad that I cannot conjure up words more complimentary than clear-cut and mostly well-played. Some of the good points in No.39 stem from what Kleiber does not do. For example, he avoids the common habit of increasing the speed at the first tutti of the first-movement Allegro which normally results in a false impression that the quiet start to this section is somehow part of the slow introduction. Similarly, Kleiber will have nothing to do with the disturbing tendency to play the loud sections of the slow movement faster than the quiet passages. Regrettably, however, Kleiber is parsimonious with outer-movement repeats in both symphonies.

The Oboe Concerto is sensitively played throughout, with great rapport between conductor and soloist Lothar Faber. The unusually swift slow movement is very effective and the finale dances joyfully. The soloist has a penetrating sound, is forwardly placed and should please those who appreciate rusticity. The decorations are brought off with great alacrity.

Kleiber hurls the orchestra through the German Dances at surprisingly high speed and the attention is certainly captured. There are eccentricities however: the trio section of K600/5 is so slow that it sounds like a different piece. I rather regret that we do not hear a Hurdy-Gurdy in the trio section of the Dance with that subtitle (K602/3). In the famous ‘Sleighride’, K605/3, taken at a wildly fast speed that increases here and there, we hear a suitably huge clangour of sleigh-bells. At the end solo trumpet plays an octave lower than we usually hear – and even seems to be below the pitch of that lower octave.

The ‘Linz’ is given inferior sound. The acoustic is much the same as that on the rest of the disc but the balance is entirely different and far from satisfactory. Too much presence is given to the rather harsh strings and one could be forgiven for wondering if the trumpets and timpani had turned up. I listened to hear what would happen in their fanfare sequences in the first movement; maybe they had indeed arrived too late to get in because they sound as if they were playing in a corridor outside the hall with the door shut! The Stuttgart Orchestra does not seem to be as skilled as its Cologne counterpart and there are moments of poor ensemble. This is noticeable in the slow movement, which also suffers from audience noise, including coughing. However, subtle phrasing throughout indicates the hand of a master-conductor and the tempos make sense, but I wish that Erich Kleiber’s art could have been better represented here. Even the companion works give the impression of nothing more remarkable than good solid music-making.

Fortunately, the brief excerpt from the conductor’s rehearsal of Symphony No.39 makes it clear that a complete musician is in charge. The rapport with the orchestra is good-humoured and it is fascinating to hear how attention to and improvement of small details can bring the music to life.

At around the time of these broadcasts, Eugen Jochum was recording symphonies 33, 36 and 39 with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. In fact the ‘Linz’ dates from a mere three months earlier than this Kleiber’s version. Those three performances are available on DG 474 982-2; Jochum’s sense of musical architecture is immaculate and the recorded sound is far superior. These are superb versions and I strongly recommend them.

I realise from the skilfully updated No.39 that Medici Arts has done sterling work to obtain decent sound for its presentation, but it seems that on this occasion it was working with very ordinary ‘master’ material, especially with the ‘Linz’.

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