Otto Klemperer = BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61; BERLIOZ: Symphonie Fantastique, Op. 14a; MOZART: Le Nozzi di Figaro Overture – Yehudi Menuhin, violin/ New Philharmonia Orch./ Otto Klemperer – Testament SBT2 -1479 (2 CDs), 48:07, 56:01 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
The concert broadcast of 30 January 1966 from Royal Festival Hall, London begins most auspiciously – and monumentally – with Otto Klemperer’s reading of Mozart’s happy Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, bright with architectural polyphony and lovely warbling from the New Philharmonia woodwinds. The guest soloist this evening, violinist Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999), like another master musician who worked with Klemperer, Leon Fleisher, admitted that “something transcendent” seemed afoot in that awesome presence, was to perform the Beethoven Violin Concerto. The local British press characterized the collaboration as the “conjunction of the magician with the monolith.” The two musical giants had last performed together in November 1938 in Los Angeles, realizing the unedited score of the Schumann Violin Concerto.
The alternately spatial and gracious aspects of the Beethoven Concerto have their counterparts in Klemperer and Menuhin, the bold, broad lines in the orchestral tissue finding a relaxed lyricism in Menuhin’s plaintive and expressive tone. Klemperer remains the master of the Apollinian line: long, elastic, and eminently ennobled. The interplay of violin and woodwinds becomes quite mesmerizing as Beethoven repeats sequential tropes, leading to Menuhin’s song high on his E string. The Kreisler cadenza suits Menuhin perfectly, its soaring flourishes, counterpoints, and dramatic double stops sonorously conveying the major themes of the Allegro, particularly its defining drum-beats. Klemperer re-engages the orchestra with Menuhin for the coda with resonant authority.
The G Major Larghetto indeed casts a crepuscular glow from deep within the music, what contemporary reviewers called “a rapt inwardness of feeling.” The fifty-year-old Menuhin, having lived with the Beethoven Concerto most of his active, musical life, had achieved a poised serenity of expression in this colossal theme-and-variations, a sense of ethereal beauty almost as detached from and attentive to human affairs as the speaker in the Keats “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” The ensuing Rondo: Allegro, while it does communicate a jaunty rustic charm, still exerts that sense of sheer, willful might that forever determines the Beethoven ethos. Exuberance, wit, and artful security continue to dominate the last pages of this titanic reading of the world’s richest violin concerto, the audience quite responsive to this particular revelation of potent beauty.
Several German conductors of note discovered the askew and macabre glories of the 1830 Berlioz Symphonie fantastique, including Bruno Walter, Oskar Fried, Herbert von Karajan, and Otto Klemperer. Klemperer evolved a new respect for the Romantic score in 1933, in Los Angeles, calling it “a work of a hyper-genius.” Taking the exposition repeat – which few others do since it lands on an awkward woodwind cadence – Klemperer also opens the Reveries—Passions movement with a grand Largo easily suggestive of a bucolic paradise. This sturdy leisure permeates the entire concept, given Klemperer’s penchant for Classical architecture and long-breathed phraseology. Un Bal maintains its sensuous dreamscape, the New Philharmonia’s harp adding an especial luster. The central movement, Scene aux champs, Klemperer treats as a slow but passionate love-scene, rife with adumbrations of Wagner, with a storm section that pays homage to both Gluck’s Orfeo and Beethoven’s Pastoral. The last two movements indulge the requisite grotesque effects, especially some cruel groans from the contra-bassoon in the March to the Scaffold and a thoroughly irreligious, polyphonic round-dance for the Witches’ Sabbath, surely in “coarse” sympathy with the Walpurgis Nights we find in Weber and Mendelssohn. If I qualify my epithet, it comes from Klemperer’s so clearly articulated sense of those “fearful symmetries” in Berlioz’s ecstatic visions.