MOZART: The Last Six Symphonies (Nos. 35, 36, 38, 39, 40 & 41); Ov. to The Abduction from the Seraglio – Philharmonia Orch. & New Philharmonia Orch./ Otto Klemperer – EMI Classics Signature Series stereo-only SACDs 955932 2 (3 discs) 51:13, 54:30, 57:00 *****:
In the online discussions about the best recorded versions of the Mozart symphonies there is little reference made to Otto Klemperer, although at one time his EMI recordings of the last several Mozart symphonies were considered the epitome. His various recordings have been available in one form or another ever since his first LPs came out in the late 1950s.
After Klemperer escaped Germany when Hitler came to power, he had a difficult time in the U.S., even getting himself arrested. In 1954 a young agent in NYC arranged for him to conduct a concert in Portland, Oregon. He became famous overnight with his superb performance of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, and he ended up in London, where he was asked to conduct EMI’s house band, the Philharmonia. Most British orchestras of the period played well enough to get by but were not first rate. Klemperer fired up the Philharmonia and made London a benchmark for orchestral excellence during the 1960s.
These recordings were originally made in 1956 thru 1962. The first couple of Mozart Symphonies were done in mono in 1956, but then stereophonic recording hit the record business and Klemperer did them over again in stereo for a set of the last six. (No. 37 was discovered in 1907 to have been actually by Michael Haydn, not Mozart.) These are full-bodied performances of great power and knowledge, yet with sensitivity when required. Klemperer may have a reputation for stodgy tempi, but actually the rhythm force of his conducting relieves any of these movements from sounding too slow. The music can still be light and graceful when required – such as in the minuet movements.
Klemper divided up the string sections, making for more interesting spatial effects in stereo, and although the EMI Great Recordings of the Century series did an OK job with reissuing these Mozart performances, they don’t begin to reveal the thrilling and highly detailed sonics heard on this new SACD remastered series. This time EMI’s engineers did it right, playing the original tapes on refurbished Studer open reel decks, using noise reduction judiciously if at all, and converting to 96K/24-bit PCM before mastering to stereo SACD.
This is what might be called big band Mozart, with none of the modern early music refinements coming into play as in the cycles of Pinnock or Hogwood. This is Mozart on modern instruments in a large-sized orchestra – not just 40 musicians like some so-called “authentic” recordings. On the other hand, Klemperer has a different approach to this music that he obviously adored and was fully familiar with. While cycles by Mackerras, Bohm, Karajan, Bruno Walter and others may compete in some ways, Klemperer’s efforts stand up amazingly well now that one can hear details in the recordings which were never exposed before except in the mastering studio. And like the RCA Living Stereo SACDs, they are available at bargain prices!
Wes Montgomery lets loose on NYC live dates from 1965…