Klemperer Conducts Mozart, Vol. 1 — Philharmonia Orchestra — Pristine Audio

by | Jul 16, 2020 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

MOZART: Symphony No. 35 in D Major, K. 385 “Haffner”; Symphony No. 36 in C Major, K. 425 “Linz”; Symphony No. 38 in D Major, K. 504 “Prague” – Philharmonia Orchestra/ Otto Klemperer – Pristine Audio PASC 599, 72:37 [www.pristineclassical.com] ****: 

It was the opportunistic, even amoral, record producer Walter Legge who signed Otto Klemperer (1883-1975) to an EMI contract in 1952, although the first sessions suffered delays until 1954. The Philharmonia Orchestra, created in 1945, offered truly gifted, London-based instrumentalists, whom Legge installed under the artistic supervision of Herbert von Karajan, a musician who, at the time, still bore the ignominies of Nazi association. Klemperer, on the other hand, had been raised in the Jewish faith, switched his spiritual allegiance to Christianity, only to divorce himself from that church when the Pope refused to take decisive action against perpetrators of the Holocaust.  By the time of these Mozart stereo recordings, 1956-1960 and remastered by Andrew Rose, Klemperer’s conducting style had lost the quick, impetuous sheen of his early days in Germany and in Los Angeles, and had assumed a stately, perhaps stodgy nobility, although the approach could often illuminate details in the score glossed over by others.  Certainly, a host of debilitating medical problems and emergencies – people often accused the conductor of self-destructive “accident proneness” – as well as advancing age, may have contributed to the general slowing of Klemperer’s tempos. Yet always Klemperer looked to Arturo Toscanini as his guiding light in orchestral discipline, projecting a style “simple, natural and honest,” and producing music “of the heart,” combined with what Klemperer admired as “the subtlest nuances of interpretation.” 

Mozart’s 1783 D Major “Haffner” Symphony (rec. 22-23 October 1960) enjoys a plush, heroic gesture to open its essentially empfindsamkeit roots in C.P.E. Bach and Franz Joseph Haydn. The leaping octaves and incisive rhythms focus on one dominant idea and its variegated development, a procedure honed to perfection in the course of Haydn’s string quartets. The music, festive and assertive, achieves a grand and stately character, marked by touches of humor and passing intimacy that might well be called “theatrical” or “operatic.”  The individual colors, say of clarinet and French horn, contrast dramatically against the Mannheim rocket figures that Klemperer’s string execute with deft security.  The dynamics of the Allegro con spirito, soft and loud, transition with a facility of long familiarity with the Mozart style. 

The two middle movements attain a balance of both Salzburg and Viennese styles, and Mozart thought of his Haffner as a “transition” in his own development. The Andante under Klemperer elicits a continuous, melodic repose, an orchestral aria of poised elegance. Klemperer’s Menuetto may appear overblown, beyond the courtly dance, and more suggestive of a ceremonial, brisk march.  The Trio offers nothing but creamy luster to the moment. The marvelous fourth movement Presto Mozart means to go “as fast as possible,” although Klemperer’s opening bars, marcato, take a moment to warm to the task. While not the fastest reading ever set to record, the piece again bustles with vigor and clarity of detail, every phrase dripping with affection from all participants. 

According to Mozart, his 1783 Linz Symphony was created “at breakneck speed” to accommodate his and new wife Constanze’s arrival at Count Thun’s residence, where Mozart had scheduled a November 4 concert at the theater. Mozart complained rather blithely, “I have not a single symphony with me.” By the time Mozart finished his “impromptu” C Major Symphony, assembled parts and perhaps rehearsed his players, he had “quite a new grand symphony” on his hands, which he dubbed “Linz” as a tribute to the essentially industrial town in Upper Austria that sits astride the Danube.

Portrait of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeua Mozart

The slow Adagio that opens the work belies the haste of its composition, and Klemperer fixates on its internal harmonies and glorious, woodwind colors.  The ensuing Allegro spiritoso bristles with hearty energy and a resolve that tolerates little drag. This is Klemperer from his earlier period in Vienna working for Vox, commanding lithe energies.  Klemperer takes the first movement repeat, a habit he to which he does not conform consistently, as in his Vox Prague Symphony and the one offered here, from 1956.  The Andante con moto adds trumpets and drums to the rather solemn occasion, though Klemperer does not dwell on any underlying sense of tragedy, only high ceremony. The low strings of the Philharmonia offer a sterling, burnished glow that invests this music with a rare luster. Klemperer’s right tempo allows us to think more in terms of an ennobled serenade movement. The Menuetto has a robust power – even at the expense of delicacy – that I first heard in my original 78 rpm recording by Beecham and the LPO. But the loving care Klemperer bestows on the individual colors that more than compensates for any loss of “courtly” and “archaic” touches. The Presto finale concedes to Mozart’s penchant for florid, virtuoso execution that manages linear, melodic invention with a brilliance in harmonic and vertical motion. Assembled 19 July at Kingsway Hall, Klemperer leads the 1787 Symphony No. 38 “Prague” in a performance taped 20, 23 and 24 July 1956. Although a Frederick Stock/Chicago Symphony performance initiated me into this happy masterpiece’s beauties, Bruno Walter’s late reading from Los Angeles became my stand-by favorite for warmth, clarity of line, and its natural, Viennese lilt.  Mozart genuinely liked Prague and its residents, whom he considered erudite and musically sympathetic.  Mozart invests this un-traditional, three-movement work with a harmonic and melodic richness complemented by contrapuntal virtuosity. 

The opening D Major chords of the Adagio – strong, processional chords – soon assume the color of the minor mode, and Mozart will exploit the dual personality of his thematic material.  Klemperer sets more of a walking, andante tempo here, punctuated by fierce passing dissonances and a kind of fluid ostinato in the bassoon.  The Allegro sports stunning string filigree, the parts played against each other in gaming counterpoint, all the while illumined by poignant touches in the winds.  The main theme, a lovely aria, sports its way through the strings, horns, and woodwinds, expanding as it moves.  The Philharmonia tympani adds to the dramatic color, and the rest works out Mozart’s polyphonic fascination – almost blinding speed and joyous, inventive dexterity – with the ways in which his minor mode will resolve itself into the ineluctable D Major cadence at the coda.

Chromatic violin work sets the tone for the Andante, an equally adventurous movement in G Major. The working out the various melodies, in sonata form, assigns an unusual breadth to this movement, and Klemperer’s natural, august temperament seems ideally suited to its artful expression. Once more, the melody’s appearance in the minor mode imbues the occasion with a tragic expressiveness rare in all symphonic music.  Rounded, breathed phrases cast the long lines in wonderful symmetry, augmented by the hesitant, vocally articulated theme and its tripping, delicate answering phrase.  Mozart basically disliked the middle-movement court dances, so he thought to discard any minuet from this grand design here in K. 504. A disarming simplicity informs the volatile energy of this Presto, whose momentum rarely relaxes, except to show off flute and neighboring winds. Halfway through the music, the atmosphere becomes almost explosive, a controlled turbulence that erupts in a manner that Beethoven would exploit. The woodwinds, especially flute, oboe and bassoon, engage in some marvelously colored passagework before the whirlwind ends, in an ambiguous complex of colors that foreshadow the kind of ambiguity that Don Giovanni would exemplify in human relations. 

In all, an extremely intelligent, emotionally gratifying triptych from one of the most “classical” of the legendary, Golden Age conductors. 

—Gary Lemco  

 




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