Saturday, November 17, 2012

Otto Klemperer – Gustav Mahler – Das Lied von der Erde, Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection”

   Otto Klemperer was a brilliant artist, the multitalented conductor and composer. He was one of most acclaimed conductors in 20th century. The fame of his phenomenal interpretations and conducting skills was as great so his compositions are almost completely forgotten. He was born in Breslau (now Wrocław in Poland). In 1905, shortly after his debut in Berlin, twenty years old conductor met Gustav Mahler. He was conducting the off-stage brass section in Symphony No. 2 performance led by Mahler. Then Klemperer visited Mahler in Vienna where he impressed composer playing by memory the Scherzo. As composer’s assistant, Klemperer made piano reduction of whole Resurrection Symphony. In 1910 he assisted Mahler in preparing premiere of Symphony of a Thousand. Later Symphony No. 2 C Minor “Resurrection” has become Klemperer’s highlight and one of the most important positions in his repertoire. He worked with many orchestras in Germany and gained the fame of the artist performing a new music. In fact he was paving the way for successes of Hindemith, Schoenberg, Stravinsky along many others.
   In 1933, when nazi-regime came to power in Germany, he fled to USA, but he has many troubles with a domestication in a new realm. Situation of an exile and various devastating experiences entailed setbacks in the professional life and the personal health. Klemperer had an operation of removing the brain tumor and suffered depression. His misfortune across the pond led him back to Europe after the war. The third stage of conductor's career came with recordings. First time he was recorded took place in 1924, but the technology of long playing records gave him a new chance for exposing interpretations of the greatest symphonic works. Since fifties his position gradually improved. He started series of recordings with Philharmonia Orchestra where he became first principal conductor in 1959. In this period Klemperer worked also at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. In 1971 artist retired and he was living in Zurich where he died in 1973.

Klemperer – Mahler – Das Lied von der Erde, Symphony No. 2 (1960)

   The conductor’s discography comprises long list of Mahler’s symphonic works recorded with various orchestras. Only in 1951 Otto Klemperer has recorded Symphony No. 2 twice with Vienna Symphony and with Concertgebouw Orchestra. To the famous Klemperer’s recordings of this work belongs also the one made with Philharmonia Orchestra in 1968. In 1951 Vox Records released two albums including Otto Klemperer’s interpretations of Gustav Mahler’s great works. Both were recorded in Vienna and later reproduced in many license editions. In 1960 Vox republished these legendary recordings as one three-disc album (VBX 115) in monophonic sound reproduction system but in the Ultra High Fidelity system. Despite the advanced pressing technology, the quality of these recordings is not always corresponding to the contemporary standards.
   Both recordings were played by Vienna Symphony Orchestra. These years the chief conductor for this orchestra was Herbert von Karajan, who later was admirer of older conductor’s artistry. And the main directions of their esthetical ideas were always close, so we can assume the orchestra met the needs. The recordings are also a valuable documentary capturing an image of the 1951 Vienna Symphony Orchestra’s sound. The historic sound of Vienna Symphony came with strong tutti, massive strings with pronounced slow vibrato, then the balanced wind and brass sections and contrasted dynamics. The orchestra sounds better in performance of Das Lied von der Erde than Symphony No. 2 where tone is unstable and sometimes annoying. Probably the most of floating sounds came out of the recording technology.
   There are some mannerisms typical for the pre-phonographic era and the orchestral sound sometimes is just not modern. Some mannerisms one can find in Elsa Cavelti (mezzo-soprano) performance in Das Lied von der Erde. Her partner was Anton Dermota (tenor) singing with nice lyric voice and natural ease. Symphony No. 2 has been recorded with joint choirs Akademie Kammerchor and Singverein der Musikfreunde and singers were Ilona Steingruber (soprano) and Hilde Rössl-Majdan (alto). Also parts of this recording show how even the beautiful voices can be spoiled with mannerisms and lack of technical excellence.

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