Friday, June 30, 2017

Gustav Mahler; Richard Strauss - Symphony No. 9; Metamorphosen; Tod und Verklärung (Otto Klemperer)


Information

Composer: Gustav Mahler; Richard Strauss

CD1:
  1. Mahler - Symphony No. 9 in D major: I. Andante comodo
  2. Mahler - Symphony No. 9 in D major: II. Im Tempo eines gemächlichen Ländlers (Etwas täppisch und sehr derb)
  3. Mahler - Symphony No. 9 in D major: III. Rondo-Burleske (Allegro assai. Sehr trotzig)
CD2:
  1. Mahler - Symphony No. 9 in D major: IV. Adagio (Sehr langsam und noch zurückhaltend)
  2. Strauss - Metamorphosen (Study for 23 Solo Strings)
  3. Strauss - Tod und Verklärung (Death and Transfiguration), Op. 24

New Philharmonia Orchestra (Mahler)
Philharmonia Orchestra (Strauss)
Otto Klemperer, conductor
Date: 1961 (Strauss), 1967 (Mahler)
Label: EMI


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Review

"... The great Mahler dichotomy that existed between Bruno Walter and Otto Klemperer ("He is a Moralist, I am an Immoralist," is how Klemperer put it) that we noted when comparing recordings of the Second Symphony and Das Lied Von Der Erde don't apply quite as much in the Ninth. But there are significant differences in their approach in terms of temperament and the aspects each chooses to bring out - or not bring out, as the case may be. Klemperer recorded the Ninth with the New Philharmonia in 1967, also late in his life, following two concert performances in London. This is now in EMI's "Klemperer Legacy" series (5 67036 2) keeping another great recording in the catalogue in excellent sound. At the start of the first movement Klemperer is as careful as Horenstein to make us hear every detail in this most important of openings, but notice the special sound of Klemperer's woodwind which will be a feature right through. Notice too that Klemperer's violins are divided left and right so we really register it's the Seconds who appear first. As the movement gets underway there is far less of the Autumnal feel so marked with Walter as Klemperer leans more towards Horenstein's approach, but is different again. Over and over it's Klemperer's particular way with balances and tone colours that impress the ear. In the passage marked "Etwas Frischer" (bars 80-107), for example, he is anxious to reveal more of the wind lines and this leads to a tougher close to the exposition than under Walter. Klemperer is, as we noted with the Second Symphony, ever the more earthly narrator in Mahler. In the Development section the music takes an even darker cloak with, for example, the muted brass contributions, what you might call the "dirty" end of the music, accentuated.

Klemperer is also inspired at what can best be described as the arguments and debates that are inherent. An attribute he also shares with Horenstein. So, the collapse at 201-203 emerges with a fierce inevitability and then the passage marked "Leidenshaftlich" ("Passionate") at 211-266 is more brittle and febrile than under Walter. All familiar Klemperer approaches making this a more uneasy listen than is sometimes the case. Klemperer is again master of the dark tone in his treatment of the muted trombones at 243-246, so pronounced under Horenstein, and then in the way the return of the "Lebwohl" motive is knitted into the structure rather than, as with Walter, made to drive it. Less nostalgia from Klemperer overall, I think this confirms. The clinching climax at 314-318 is built with an unerring structural control and power. Klemperer's legendary grasp of the architecture never more in evidence. At its pinnacle we hear truly awesome trombones ("Micht hochster Gewalt" - "With greatest force" indeed !) as black as doom and punctuated by fierce timpani cracks which lead splendidly into the "Like a funeral procession" section where again Klemperer's distinctive sound palette impresses where the music seems cloaked with slate greys and funeral purples. In overall terms Klemperer is almost as spacious as Horenstein and Walter in this movement. Yet deep beneath the Klemperer performance you are aware of a slightly more urgent tread than with Walter who tends to relax just that little more into charged nostalgia.

Klemperer's scherzo matches Walter's as one of the finest on record with, if anything, an even greater sense of "digging in" right down to a foot stamp from the conductor in exactly the same place. For these men this music was clearly "bred in the bone". Klemperer's woodwind are more folksy and ethnic providing the poisoned thread that runs through it, accentuating bitterness, achieved as much by the magnificent players at Klemperer's disposal. The tempo changes are well handled too with Tempo III's slower landler especially unsettling and showing Klemperer exploring every nook and cranny with an eagle eye, culminating in as poisonous and deadly a close as you could want. Likewise the Rondo-Burlesque which, under Klemperer, is slower and more determined and gives the opportunity for every last detail to register. There's a price to be paid in that there's less the feeling of disintegration, of imminent collapse, that can sound so devastating in this movement under others. Hear Walter in his 1938 "live" concert recording from Vienna where he tears into the music in an almost unhinged frenzy. Klemperer, ever "Honest Otto", doesn't attempt to prettify the nostalgic interlude, the "Music From Far Away", of course. In fact he makes it knit better into what has just gone and what is to come by again marking the darker tones, playing it for nobility and febrile strength. No praise can be too high for his Principal Clarinet who, in the lead back to the main material, squeals like Till Eulenspiegel throttling on his gibbet. In the return of the main material Klemperer equals Horenstein in anger and bitterness, made more memorable by the control he exercises on the tempo.

I described Klemperer's sound palette in the funeral procession episode of the first movement as "slate-grey" and that's the feeling I have with the last movement. In terms of emotional approach "stoic" is the word that springs to mind. In fact, anything but the self-indulgent approach some conductors give us here, pulling the music out, hamming it up like hack tragedians. It's a broad account but it's remarkable for its determination and dignity. The strings indulge in no sweet tricks and notice the way the bassoon climbs up the scale near the start to accentuate a "crustier" style than that of Walter, then how the solo horn's contribution is reined back almost as if to let him have his head would show Klemperer allowing emotion to get the better of him. Then in the interlude between the two great statements of the main material notice again Klemperer exploring nooks and crannies, searching out sounds and combinations of sounds that elude many others - high strings against low strings especially helped by the rich but clear recording. So Klemperer was never the man to wear his heart on his sleeve and if we are moved by the return of the main material at bar 49 it's for what can only be described as an unwillingness to give in - the admiration we have for those who endure pain, perhaps. The final climax emerges clean and triumphant and note how the trombones dominate the texture recalling, for me, their appearance at the climax of the first movement where they were death in musical form. Is Klemperer here musically paraphrasing "O death, where is thy sting ? O grave, where is thy victory" ? I think he is. And he withdraws us from the world in the closing pages unforgettably, exploring the music rather than seeking to put us to sleep with it. As with Walter and Horenstein before him, it remains part of what has gone before. ..."

-- Tony Duggan, MusicWeb International

More reviews:
ClassicsToday  ARTISTIC QUALITY: 9 / SOUND QUALITY: 8
http://www.allmusic.com/album/mahler-symphony-no-9-richard-strauss-metamorphosen-tod-und-verkl%C3%A4rung-mw0001874365
http://www.amazon.com/Mahler-Symphony-No-Strauss-Metamorphosen/dp/B000MX7SV4

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Gustav Mahler (7 July 1860 – 18 May 1911) was an Austrian late-Romantic composer, and one of the leading conductors of his generation. As a composer he acted as a bridge between the 19th century Austro-German tradition and the modernism of the early 20th century. In his lifetime his status as a conductor was established beyond question, but his own music gained wide popularity only after periods of neglect. After 1945, Mahler became one of the most frequently performed and recorded of all composers. Mahler's œuvre is relatively small. Aside from early works, most of his are very large-scale works, designed for large orchestral forces, symphonic choruses and operatic soloists.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gustav_Mahler

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Richard Strauss (11 June 1864 – 8 September 1949) was a leading German composer of the late Romantic and early modern eras. He is known for his operas, lieder, tone poems and other orchestral works. Strauss was also a prominent conductor throughout Germany and Austria. Strauss was also a prominent conductor throughout Germany and Austria. Along with Gustav Mahler, Strauss represents the late flowering of German Romanticism after Richard Wagner, in which pioneering subtleties of orchestration are combined with an advanced harmonic style.

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Otto Klemperer (14 May 1885 – 6 July 1973) was a German conductor and composer. He is widely regarded as one of the leading conductors of the 20th century. Klemperer met Gustav Mahler while conducting the off-stage brass at a performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 2, and later assisted Mahler in the premiere of Mahler's Symphony No. 8. He became the first principal conductor of the Philharmonia in 1959, subsequently made many recordings for EMI that have become classics. While adopting slower tempi as he aged, Klemperer's performances often maintain great intensity, and are richly detailed.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otto_Klemperer

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