Classical Reissue Reviews

Otto Klemperer = BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major; SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 8 “Unfinished” – New Philharmonia Orch./ Otto Klemperer – Testament (2 CDs)

The opportunity to display Klemperer’s capacity for monumental and transcendent architecture in Bruckner and Schubert renders a Royal Festival Hall audience in 1967 spellbound.

Published on August 23, 2013

Otto Klemperer = BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major; SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 8 “Unfinished” – New Philharmonia Orch./ Otto Klemperer – Testament (2 CDs)

Otto Klemperer = BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major; SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 8 in B Minor, D. 759 “Unfinished” – New Philharmonia Orchestra/ Otto Klemperer – Testament SBT2 1485 (2 CDs) 77:28; 28:16 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

I decided to audition this concert broadcast of 21 March 1967 by Otto Klemperer and the New Philharmonia Orchestra from Royal Festival Hall, London, by first addressing the Schubert B Minor Symphony (1822). Certainly, Klemperer projects an epic grandeur into what must already express heroic gloom and despondency. The B Minor color has an especial melancholy, deepened by Schubert’s scoring, which places a grim weight upon the agitated violins, cellos and basses and the mournful woodwinds. The G Major counter-theme barely alleviates the personal agony of this understatedly marked Allegro moderato, which under Klemperer achieves a wrenching intensity. If the quieter passages offer some consolation, the frequent returns to the abyss assume the greater sense of descent, an inextinguishable sense of tragedy. The trombones, tympani, and menacing tremolandos add to an often macabre confinement worthy of one of Poe’s claustrophobic castles.

Klemperer takes the E Major Andante con moto at a funereal tempo, the winds and strings combining to an organ effect. While the moments of inner serenity and relative introspection may balance the terrors of the first movement, the Andante hardly provides unmitigated consolation. At moments, the dirge swells with a threatening crescendo that could announce the Apocalypse, only to turn, sigh, and trill with poised resignation. The heavy cast, the sepulchral coloring, and anguished lament pre-figure Mahler – or in this evening Bruckner – in a most telling fashion. This ninth of the preserved Unfinished Symphony readings by Klemperer (1924-1967) finds his principal oboe in ardent, resonant responsiveness to this eminently potent study in grays.

The “combination of genius and simpleton” (Fritz Kreisler) has long defined the character of Anton Bruckner, despite the hard-fought respect his music earned through the efforts of a host of dedicated acolytes such as Furtwaengler, Schalk, Walter, Wand, Celibidache, Schuricht, Jochum, Adler, Knappertsbusch, and Chailly. Bruckner completed the original version of the Fifth between 1875-1876, a time a great personal trial in which he honed his polyphonic writing.  After a visit to Wagner, Bruckner revised the work, finishing this version in 1878. The “Bruckner version” endured as the standard until the Robert Haas edition restored some 120 bars to the double-fugue finale. With the advent of Klemperer as a Bruckner conductor in Wiesbaden, Berlin ,and Frankfurt, he superseded Walter and Furtwaengler as the great arbiter of the Bruckner architecture.

Rife with cathedral sounds and hymnals, sudden bursts of passion, and huge Gothic arches by way of periodic phrases, the Fifth remains elusive as an emotional totality. The Wagner harmony and orchestral scoring placed in the service of a personal doxology produces alternately heroic and bucolically serene results, interrupted by Bruckner’s tendency to obsess over repeated, fragmentary tropes. Klemperer manages to sustain an ardent, driven line in all this complexity within the first movement, whose final chord leaves us a mite breathless.

The Adagio opens (in D Minor) with a device similar to that of many great works, a string sound in triplets against a melancholy oboe tune. The main “event” of this movement comes in the form of a lush melody in C Major, loud and powerful, as marked. The warmth of the effect, too, its ardent chorale, should be noted. The unbroken singing line exhibits a resilient, flexible tension, immensely affecting. The Scherzo utilizes methods that splice the Austrian laendler to Schubert’s enharmonic ploys. In turbulent D Minor, the Scherzo immediately introduces a folk rhythm that Klemperer takes extremely marcato e peasant, if only to contrast it with the extreme whirlpool of the Scherzo’s main motor element. The Trio exploits the F-sharp of the D Major triad to become the G-flat basis of a new nexus of rustic feeling.

That the double theme-and-variations of the Beethoven Ninth provided the model for Bruckner’s immense fugal procedures in the Fifth’s Finale might be common knowledge, but Bruckner creates his own sound spectrum here, combined of pedaled-periods in organ layers fused to a chorale infused with the sense of the divine in all things, great and small.  In his various revisions, Bruckner added tympani, cymbals, and brass, honing the effect to resemble the Wagnerian ideal. Fragments of earlier movements’ motifs insert themselves, along with clear reminiscences of Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge in B-flat Major, Op. 133.  Although there are moments when the music seems lost in its own mazes and intricacies, Klemperer subdues the imaginative meanderings to a focused destination, achieving in critic Deryck Cooke’s words, “a wonderfully logical build-up straight through from start to finish.”

—Gary Lemco




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