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Bruckner: Symphony No 4 - Strauss: Don Juan / Klemperer, Cologne Radio Symphony

Release Date: 06/26/2007 
Label:  Medici Masters   Catalog #: 1   Spars Code: ADD 
Composer:  Anton BrucknerRichard Strauss
Conductor:  Otto Klemperer
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne West German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Mono 
Length: 1 Hours 12 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BRUCKNER Symphony No. 4, “Romantic.” 1 R. STRAUSS Don Juan 2 Otto Klemperer, cond; Cologne West German RSO MEDICI MASTERS 1, mono (72:11) Broadcast: Cologne 4/5/1954; 1 2/27/1956 2

In the early 1950s, Otto Read more Klemperer was suffering from increasingly severe health problems, as well as difficulties with his passport. Major Western European and American orchestras were no longer familiar with his important work, which had largely been confined to the pre-World War II years, save for a short but vital period in the late 1940s leading the Budapest Opera. (Several of these opera performances in Hungarian were recorded on stage, and have since the 1970s been circulated by Hungaroton to generally positive reviews.) The conductor felt increasingly isolated and tired. A psychiatrist he had seen in August of 1953 wrote in his notes, “His only wish is to lie down and not work.”

Work, however, was the antidote to this dangerous accidie . In early February of 1954 Klemperer gave a concert with the Cologne RSO that proved so successful, despite the conductor’s fragile health, that a follow-up was immediately arranged for three weeks later. It, too, was a hit, as were concerts that followed with other secondary orchestras. Walter Legge, always seeking to improve EMI’s roster of artists, scheduled Karajan to conduct his Philharmonia Orchestra. An EMI contract was arranged, one that proved providential when Karajan’s responsibilities as artistic director and permanent conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic curtailed his work in Britain. Subsequently and for many years to come, Klemperer was well recorded and regarded.

His Bruckner Fourth, early in that watershed period, is best described as bracing and flexible. It is fast, as was characteristic of Klemperer during much of his career. (His tempos slowed greatly during the 1960s. A BBC interview of the period has him being asked why he had reconsidered the tempos of so many works. “I’ve never changed my tempos,” he stated with measured emphasis. The interview moved on.) It is actually slower, however, than a 1951 recording with the Vienna SO that has been circulated repeatedly over the years—most recently, on The International Music Company 203187 393. That earlier performance is quicker in each movement, and by more than a minute in several. Even the Fourth’s Scherzo, which can sustain a galloping pace, sounds rushed due to an absence of contrast. However, this contrast is definitely present in the 1954 Cologne RSO reading, with a truly fluid sense of rhythm to the trios, as well as greater detail, without any loss of momentum. Much the same can be said of the other movements: quick, but allowing plenty of room to shape individual phrases. This is a turbulent, dramatic performance of considerable intensity (using the 1953 Nowak edition of the 1878–1880 revision) that brings out the best from the Cologne musicians, especially the brass.

The progress of two years saw changes to Klemperer’s health as well as his fortunes. In January of 1956, the conductor’s devoted daughter Lotte wrote to Ernst Toch, “Since May he conducts standing (at rehearsals, recording sessions, everything), has put on weight again, has a normal color and artistically is in the best possible form.” A month later he conducted the Don Juan offered here. It is a sympathetic, sometimes tempestuous reading with vibrant strings, exceptionally well-paced and varied, though let down by the Cologne winds.

Sound is good for the period: slightly dry but full in the Bruckner, more distant but effectively balanced in the Strauss (with just a trifle too much attention paid to the percussion). There’s some constriction in loud passages, but no breakup, and no distracting background noise.

With good liner notes, this is definitely a souvenir of Klemperer that all his fans will want.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 4 in E flat major, WAB 104 "Romantic" by Anton Bruckner
Conductor:  Otto Klemperer
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne West German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1874; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 04/05/1954 
Venue:  Live  Studio 1, WDR, Cologne, Germany 
Length: 55 Minutes 48 Secs. 
Notes: Composition written: Vienna, Austria (1874 - 1886). 
Don Juan, Op. 20 by Richard Strauss
Conductor:  Otto Klemperer
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne West German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1888-1889; Germany 
Date of Recording: 02/27/1956 
Venue:  Live  Studio 1, WDR, Cologne, Germany 
Length: 16 Minutes 9 Secs. 

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