Klemperer = MOZART: Symphony No. 40; BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 7 – New Philharmonia Orch./ Otto Klemperer – Testament (2 CDs)

by | Aug 28, 2013 | Classical Reissue Reviews

Klemperer = MOZART: Symphony No. 40 in G Minor K. 550; BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 7 in E Major – New Philharmonia Orchestra/ Otto Klemperer – Testament SBT2 1477 (2 CDs), 27:22; 62:20 (4/18/13) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

Many might object to conductor Otto Klemperer’s “monumental” approach to Mozart’s No. 40 G Minor Symphony on a November evening of 1965 at Royal Festival Hall, London, but few would argue with its power and dynamically balanced phrasing. Underlying the sheer mass of the conception lies a Romantics’ view of Mozart the dramatist, a far cry from any “rococo” niceties of the gallant style. Besides the repeat of the opening exposition of the first movement, the clarity of instrumental articulation remains fiercely resonant, unafraid of the more than passing dissonances that mark the tragic urgency and resignation of the Allegro molto. Several contemporary critics balked at what they considered “unsmiling” Mozart, but I wonder if the G Minor Symphony means to “laugh, but smile no more.”  The E-flat Major Andante has the chorale-like dignity of the Masonic Funeral Music, another Klemperer Mozart specialty. The low strings and flute combine – then low winds and high strings – for an elevated elegance of expression, again finding a Romantic yearning even amidst internal strife harmonically. That the movement proceeds in a major key offers one of the great wonders of the Tragic Muse.

How any critic could judge this rendition “colorless” baffles my imagination.  What a turbulent Menuetto & Trio Klemperer lays at our feet! Richly contrapuntal and accented, the music virtually sweeps us away well in anticipation of our friend Beethoven, or better, Mahler. Wonderful work from New Philharmonia’s bassoon. The last movement holds a dangerous course between triumph and calamity, the Mannheim rockets in thrilling motion. That Klemperer can coax grace and transparent beauty from the welter of conflicting impulses in this often dire amalgam testifies to an uncanny control over paradoxical emotions in Mozart’s last expressions in symphonic form.

Klemperer liked to program the Mozart G Minor and the Bruckner Seventh (Original Version), relishing their distinct sound worlds. The long lean Bruckner line of the opening Allegro moderato, set over tremolando strings, establishes a continuity that the conductor maintains throughout. The winds and trumpets add their tints of glory to the color mix, and then the musical periods begin to alternate between the visionary and the bucolic. Still, in spite of the innate heaviness of the “chorale” progression, Klemperer elicits moments of Austrian rustic lightness and aerial acrobatics. Energy and authoritative confidence mark every page of this reading. In the Adagio, Klemperer tended to favor the Nikisch demand for a tympani crash (and triangle roll) at the climax. In spite of the clearly Wagnerian orchestration – the Wagner tubas and almost direct quotes from Die Goetterdaemmrung – the Adagio elicits more sympathy with the Adagio in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Perhaps the entire movement means to be a dirge, but Klemperer evokes a sense of inexorable, transcendent mysticism that belies despair.

Something of the Ride of the Valkyries permeates the brassy Scherzo, assisted by a four-note ostinato from the strings. Klemperer canters through the movement, occasionally allowing its full force to explode then retreat, hunting-style. Klemperer, following the directive of Hans Redlich, prefers to cast the Trio as “a nostalgia for a lost golden age.” Klemperer certainly insists that the momentum of the relatively truncated Finale derives from motives from the opening movement, here having achieved a grand apotheosis of rare power and conviction. The applause proves as apocalyptic as the performance.

—Gary Lemco