Otto Klemperer: The Last Concert = BEETHOVEN: King Stephen Overture, Op. 117; Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58; BRAHMS: Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90 – Daniel Adni, piano/New Philharmonmia Orchestra/Otto Klemperer – Testament

by | Sep 26, 2008 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Otto Klemperer: The Last Concert = BEETHOVEN: King Stephen Overture, Op. 117; Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58; BRAHMS: Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90 – Daniel Adni, piano/New Philharmonmia Orchestra/Otto Klemperer

Testament SBT2 1425, 48:11; 43:21 [Distrib. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

Otto Klemperer (1885-1973) was eighty-seven when he ascended the podium of the New Philharmonia Orchestra for the last time at Royal Festival Hall (26 September 1971); his only request had been that the players appear in informal dress for his series of concerts. The King Stephen Overture proceeds a bit stiffly, already a victim of that monumentality Klemperer wore like a heavy purple gown of musical royalty. The figures lighten up at the end of the first period; the oboe now waxes lyrical in a cross between waltz and polka that the French horn and low strings take up over the thumping tympani. The momentum picks up again, driven like a heavy storm into the mix of woodwinds and strings that culminates with the oboe and bass drum. Heavy and valedictory, the last pages of King Stephen resound with Beethoven’s call for freedom, sincere but adamantine.

The pedigree of Israeli pianist Daniel Adni (b. 1951) needs no apology, his having studied with Vlado Perlemuter and Geza Anda. This concert provided his concerto debut.  The orchestral tenor for the G Major Concerto definitely softens in the orchestral tutti–Leon Fleisher once remarked that Klemperer conveyed a sense of the transcendent–an unhurried dialogue ensues, broadly lyrical and acutely studied, a deliberate approximation of Aeolian harp virtues and verities. Considering the Fifth-Symphony accumulation of beats, the melodic shapeliness of the concerto evolves within a most sensitive application of woodwind textures and a steady, fluid pulsation.  Adni’s delicate touch and liquid runs and trills correspond to much of the ethos Curzon and Knappertsbusch achieved in their collaboration in this concerto, albeit Adni’s sound has a brittle forte-piano resonance. A thoughtful, graduated Andante brings forth several levels of nuance from Klemperer’s orchestra, Adni’s trill quite piercing, in the manner of Serkin. An air of mystery settles upon the last page for the hushed segue into the Rondo-Vivace. Spirited while touched a sense of ritard (marcato), the last movement savors the tender interplay of woodwinds and the brisk piano. Adni’s cadenza, short but colorfully plastic, ushers in the woodwinds in serenade; then, the brio-filled hurdles to the coda (with vivacious bassoon) and a thundering conclusion. The audience certainly expresses unbridled appreciation.

Klemperer takes a titan’s upbeat for the opening of the Brahms Third, a gesture long on expansive energy, since the duration–with repeats–rivals that of Bernstein with the Vienna Philharmonic. Woodwind entries, especially that of the oboe, assume a quietly introspective character, and the strings move from pp to ppp without Brahms having asked for such. The sweet, elastic tension between F Major and F Minor rock us back and forth, and the aura of one “free but happy” dominates the “free but lonely” aspect Brahms would have ascribed to Schumann’s Eusebius.  A bit staid in the joints, the tempo becomes magisterial, in waltz time then in martial colors. Nice French horn by way of the recapitulation with its resplendent pedal-points. The extended coda proves quite gripping, despite its inflated girth; we cannot but help our hindsight to sense its valedictory character.

Rarely have I heard the Andante movement’s opening bars seem like an extension of the Brahms Op. 16 Serenade; but until the violas, flutes, and high strings take over, Brahms might well be paying homage in his late years to the Mozart Grand Partita. Klemperer drags the tempo a bit for my money, especially for what is indicated a “walking” pace; but for those who bask in a Brahms autumn, the serenely tragic outpourings and drooping sequences will prove mesmerizing, especially in the limpid French horn (Alan Civil?). The Poco allegretto smiles through its tears. A truly flexible, fluid legato emanates from strings and woodwinds, the lower strings adding a beautifully modulated series of nuances to fill out the harmony. The counter-theme of the Trio does indeed border on mysticism: tell me it is isn’t Furtwaengler! The last movement allows Klemperer to lead a symphony of Brahms and moments from Beethoven, without danger of contradiction. The dotted rhythms Brahms invokes simultaneously usher in a Bach suite and the Beethoven Fifth Symphony, whose massive stature in Klemperer’s realization almost topples of its own gravitas. But the music rebounds beautifully, achieving an aerial clarity for the extended coda, whose wind dialogues and string undercurrents melt back into that ambiguously rich froth that makes Brahms “free but lonesome.” Whatever we say about Klemperer’s last, “massive” years, this performance does “not go gently into that good night.”

Don’t we collectors owe the old, Grand Master our attendance at his farewell?

— Gary Lemco

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