Classical Reissue Reviews

RAMEAU: Gavotte with 6 Variations (Orch. by Klemperer); MOZART: Symphony No. 38 in D Major, “Prague”; SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 2 – New Philharmonia Orch./ Otto Klemperer – Testament

A powerful 1968 broadcast from the BBC archives present Otto Klemperer in grand form as he applies his especial, grand line to scores by Rameau, Mozart, and Schumann.

Published on August 13, 2013

RAMEAU: Gavotte with 6 Variations (Orch. by Klemperer); MOZART: Symphony No. 38 in D Major,  “Prague”; SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 2 – New Philharmonia Orch./ Otto Klemperer – Testament

RAMEAU: Gavotte with 6 Variations (Orch. by Klemperer); MOZART: Symphony No. 38 in D Major, K. 504 “Prague”; SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 2 in C Major, Op. 61 – New Philharmonia Orchestra/ Otto Klemperer – Testament SBT 1482, 78:04 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

Testament has initiated a major revival of performances by Otto Klemperer (1885-1973), a German conductor noted for his iron will and authority, whose old age heralded a career renaissance, particularly in England, which revered him. This release proffers a broadcast of 10 October 1968 from Royal Festival Hall, London, a concert that received mixed reviews from the critics.

Klemperer opens with his own “updated” orchestration of the Gavotte and Six Doubles by Jean-Philippe Rameau, a harpsichord piece often performed on the modern piano. The use of woodwinds in virtuosic runs proved stylishly acceptable, but the modern harmonies of the last variation, along with its canonic treatment, disconcerted the faithful. Klemperer follows the Rameau with a ‘determined’ or ‘deliberate’ reading of Mozart’s usually buoyant 1786 Prague Symphony, which here seems rather to recall d minor Don Giovanni more than Die Zauberfloete. A stern seriousness seems to permeate the first movement, although the balance of phrases in running sixteenths remains Klemperer’s personal Classical calling-card. The winds and tympani ring quite forward, the tempo of the 4/4 Allegro paced marcato, the canonic articulation etched with attention to color detail. The peroration at the coda might seem overblown to purists, but the effect borders on the colossal.

The G Major Andante has its own musical surprises, most often in the minor-key digressions that assume polyphonic dimensions, as in the opening movement. In full sonata-form, the music grows architecturally under Klemperer’s direction, the violins especially conspiring with the winds to create a richly chromatic arc of solemn, even tragic dimensions. Klemperer achieves a haunted intimacy in this movement, a meditative martial quality that has the small intensity of chamber music. The Finale: Presto movement openly quotes The Marriage of Figaro, especially Susanna’s attempt to get Cherubino hastily through a window. Klemperer does effect a lighter touch for this Homeric, witty movement, the flute and bassoon adding choice morsels of color, and the strings aerodynamic trills. The tuttis, however, are no laughing matter, closer to robust Beethoven that to Mozart’s deft athleticism. The audience bursts into hearty applause, certainly appreciative of the performance, whatever its ‘stylistic’ anachronisms.

The 1845 C Major Symphony of Schumann has had its proponents in the annals of Enescu, Mitropoulos, Szell, Bernstein, and Sinopoli. Schumann admitted that the work “reminds me of dark days” in his advancing psychological dissolution; but the grand, even epic, striving in the piece exacts a noble pageant from its adherents, including Klemperer. The dotted rhythm of the first movement Allegro ma non troppo – again taken with that restrained marcato – educes the strong affinity to Bach’s music that captivated Schumann, along with his admiration of the Schubert melos. Klemperer takes the first movement repeat, adding even more girth to the weighty subject. Unlike Szell, whose streamlined approach too typically reduced the music to a march, Klemperer – like Bernstein and Mitropoulos – allows the deliberate, antiphonal grandeur of the scoring to indulge itself. The New Philharmonia brass section acquits itself with notable grandeur and expressive power.

The spirit of Beethoven infuses the Scherzo, with its two trios. Beethoven will return in the finale, with a direct quote from An die ferne Geliebte, a ploy Schumann uses in his own C Major Fantasy, Op. 17. In duple meter, the Scherzo moves briskly, even gingerly, with occasional, chugging sforzati that take a bite. While the first trio plays with string and wind choirs, the second trio cleverly inserts the B-flat-A-C-B motif that spells out Bach’s name. The C Minor Adagio movement needs no apologies: its lyric beauty and rapt sincerity prefigure Mahler for (canonic) spiritual evocation and inward intensity. Even the contemporary critics had to yield to Klemperer’s passionate sway with the finale: Allegro molto vivace. The invocation of Beethoven came, according to one commentator, “with almost irresistible poignancy.” The New Philharmonia oboe must receive due credit for the affective brilliance of this mighty interpretation.

If the Schumann Second Symphony remains the “Cinderella” among the four, it certainly found Prince Charming in the nobly austere arms of Otto Klemperer this evening.

—Gary Lemco

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