MENDELSSOHN: Symphony No. 3 in a, Op. 56 “Scottish”; Symphony No. 4 in A, Op. 90 “Italian”; Hebrides Overture, Op. 26; SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 4 in d, Op. 120 – Philharmonia Orch./ Otto Klemperer – EMI Classics Signature Series stereo-only SACD 9 55910 2 (two discs), 108:06 [5/8/12] ****1/2:
Otto Klemperer actually spent very little time in the concert hall with the music of Mendelssohn and Schumann; yet the release of these standard-setters proves again that the old codger understood music from a very basic point of view, and though he often applied it as a large blanket across many varied styles, when it hit it hit hard, often to great success, and very often with an interpretative finesse that so many other conductors before or since have lacked.
The most radiant jewel in this collection is the Italian Symphony. Though Klemp often got criticized for his slow tempos, in this work his propulsive but moderate tempo in the first and last movements is well-nigh perfect; all of Mendelssohn’s counterpoint and fast and furious harmonic activity are brought to the fore as in few other recordings, and the spacious and wide-spread sound of the Philharmonia Orchestra, even on the original release, is terrific. In this 96K/24-bit SACD remastering the effect is stunning.
The Scottish Symphony is not as exacting in its demands upon the ear towards perfection. Klemperer was never satisfied with the original ending of this work, and like so many egomaniacal conductors, he took it upon himself to rewrite it. In the first edition of this release both his and Mendelssohn’s endings were given, and Klemperer’s can still be had on another EMI CD release. Fortunately here we are given the composer’s much-improved ending, though honestly this is one time when the slow tempos sometimes work against the natural tendencies of the music. One only needs to compare it to Peter Maag’s Decca recording to understand how this piece should go, and what Klemperer missed. Nevertheless, the performance remains more than creditable if not exactly optimal. The Hebrides Overture also falls into this category, yet is more convincing overall.
Schumann’s first symphony mistakenly labeled as his last has always been a problematic work for many conductors who simply fail to understand how its disparate parts link together. Too often the wrong emphasis is given in order to make dramatic points that supposedly cover up other aspects of the work’s weaknesses. Klemperer has none of that, and though he does fall into the camp that believed Schumann needs help with his orchestration he also has an intuitive feel for this work that is the equal to almost any other recording on the market.
I do hope that the other Klemperer recordings, like his wonderful Wagner, will be forthcoming. For now, this is a great start, and EMI has picked very carefully—and rightly.
Rhino Entertainment Group releases a triple vinyl of Little Feat’s definitive album.