Klemperer Conducts = BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125 “Choral” – Maria Stader, soprano/Waldemar Kmentt, tenor/Grace Hoffman, mezzo-soprano/Hans Hotter, bass/Chorus of the North German Radio/Cologne Radio and Cologne Radio-Symphony Orchestra/Otto Klemperer
Medici Arts MM031-2, 72:33 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
During an interview with pianist Leon Fleisher, I asked him his impression of having worked on the G Major Concerto with conductor Otto Klemperer (1885-1973). “One could feel a sense of the transcendent,” quipped Fleisher. Certainly the strong bond between Beethoven’s aggressive energy and the immanence of the mystical permeates this Cologne performance of the Ninth Symphony (6 January 1958). Klemperer had first led the Ninth some fifty years earlier, in 1908, working as the chorus-master of the German Opera in Prague. The sinew and knotty convulsions of the first movement convey a powerful impression of a birth-process, a Promethean urge to creation out of an unformed firmament. The trumpets and tympani constantly mark out an inexorable rhythmic pattern that threatens to swallow the world. The music proceeds in large periods, a Herculean mass of sound, the cadences almost too rich with color to be contained in the bar lines. The coda, too, emerges from twilight energies, some of them from deep in the earth, read to inspire the likes of Tolkien and Verne.
Klemperer observes all the repeats in the Scherzo, taking the tempo quickly but without that hectic fury that loses its own shape. The slight marcato deepens the affect and increases the tension in the string and woodwinds attacks. As militant as the figures are, they project a buoyant exuberance that runs in deft, clipped song in the woodwinds, soon punctuated explosively by the tympani and pizzicato strings. The trio enjoys a leisurely broad approach, basking in the color harmonies and string jubilation that insists on glowing repetitions with horn ostinati and weaving oboe riffs. After two movements on a grand scale, the Adagio seems rather stoical in sentiment, not plebeian but lyrically straightforward in a reductive manner. The relative de-construction produces new harmonies in the old wine bottle, often weirdly reminiscent of Bach’s Musical Offering in their contrapuntal guises. The urgency of the tempo seeks to prepare us for the spiritual thrust of the last movement, a recapitulation and transcendence of all that has preceded it.
The heavy tread rules for the Finale opening, Presto–Allegro assai, the basses marking a deliberate, vocal recitative. The plan moves along Teutonic lines, interrupted by an Italianate moment that recalls the Adagio. The five-note theme that appears finds Eureka greeting it in response; and so we move though graduated dynamics to the heroically noble statement of humanity and its means of salvation. The brass section plays–with tympani furioso–with unbridled conviction, the last orchestral plummeting to Hans Hotter’s invocation for change. It shall indeed be some supernal magic that transforms the hearts of men. How often we have heard minor harmonies come forth from Maria Stader as Queen of the Night–here, she hurtles into the stratosphere of love. The jaunty scherzo, the janissary march, whistles in the flute and cymbals as Waldemar Kmentt strides through the transformation of the Turk into the Believer, the subsequent polyphony and chorus response quite thrilling. The entire slow movement, “Seid umschlungen millionen. . .” takes us to another plane of existence, those hallowed spaces we enter musically in company with Furtwaengler, Toscanini, Walter, Horenstein, Schuricht. The vocal quartet lightens the mood, the magic having worked and illuminating our steps to Elysium, the possibility of Heaven on Earth. With one last, passionate surge, the quartet reminds us that all men are brothers, as hard to believe as it may seem. Suddenly, the metronome breaks down, and the music in janissary guise breaks loose in a round of controlled pandemonium, Klemperer and his assembled Cologne forces at the top of their collective form.
Bonus: a two-minute rehearsal by Klemperer from the piano of the “Freude” response to the baritone, Klemperer’s cracked voice intoning Schiller’s words with King Lear’s savage zeal. Touching, to say the least.