Andante 2 CDs, mono 77:41; 67:36 ****:
This 2-CD set devoted to the Cologne Radio-Symphony’s 1954 association with conductor Otto Klemperer (1885-1973) complements the Music & Arts Klemperer in Hamburg (CD 1088) issue, without repeating any of the musical materials. The Geza Anda collaboration in the Brahms B-flat Concerto has been available on Hunt (aka Arkadia, CDGI 733.1), which lists the performance from 5 April 1954. The entire year marked a pivotal time for Klemperer, whose health finally permitted extensive tours with a number of orchestras, and much of his work has been documented on various labels, like Testament and Melodram. There had already been some bad blood with various organizations; and in spite of Klemperer’s championship of the music of Paul Hindemith, he would not participate in the recording of that composer’s Horn Concerto for EMI because Dennis Brain refused to work with him, claiming “the old man has no rhythm and cannot or will not support me.” Happily, the teamwork with pianist Geza Anda (1921-1976) is superb, including one frenetic “wisp of a Scherzo” in D Minor. What always impresses me about Klemperer’s Brahms is the heroic scale of his conception, a keen sense of the Brahms penchant for the long, symmetrical line.
Once on tour, Klemperer and WDR manager Eigel Kruttge, along with the conductor’s daughter Lotte, decided Beethoven would form a crucial aspect of the proffered repertory. The architecture of the B-flat Symphony (25 October 1954) is large, with Klemperer taking the first movement repeat and keeping a taut, firm line on the strings and tympani. The mold is Toscanini’s, close to the dark inscription that the Italian maestro led for his commercial issue for RCA. The opening unfolds like an adumbration of some tragic event; and even the merry flute and bassoon riffs in the ensuing Allegro vivace do little to ameliorate the storms Klemperer unleashes. The interior movements seem close in spirit to Beethoven’s Fidelio, each a studied drama in rhythm and tonal clusters. The finale manages a thin smile, although the Cologne players might be intent on momentum and eliciting technical bravura for their guest conductor. Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony (8 February 1954) remains a Klemperer calling-card, a high-powered tour of metrically dissonant elements which ultimately resist the spirit of compromise. The molded transiton to the first movement recapitulation is worth noting, the fine entry of horn and flute, the full tutti of the strings and trumpets. The Adagio assai Funeral March proves pungent and anguished, sometimes in spite of a dry acoustic in the hall. The Scherzo might well be marked “Resurgence,” as far as Klemperer is concerned; it has uncanny forward direction. The Finale caught me by surprise: rather than another confrontation with Fate, it relaxes in mood, tenderly aligning itself with the Prometheus ballet, the figures insinuating themselves rather than hurtling thunderbolts. Hindemith’s Nobilissima Visone (1938), from the same 8 February concert, is rife with conceits devoted to the life of St. Francis of Assisi. Hindemith cannot overcome his literalist personality and create musical pictures; he can only suggest reverential moods. Still, a kind of academic, bucolic lyricism urges itself on us, with flute and celli intoning songfully in the first section. The March and Pastorale remind me of the composer’s use of the Turandot air for the Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Weber. Hindemith’s unfailing didact nature wins out in the end, via a Passacaglia taken straight from Bach’s lexicon. Klemperer affords the music its stolid beauty, and he the WDR players saw away for all they are worth.