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Symphony No.5 in C minor, Op.67; Symphony No.7 in A, Op.92

Philharmonia Orchestra / Otto Klemperer

Symphony No.5 issued on Columbia 33C 1051;
Symphony No.7 on Columbia 33CX 1379

Naxos Historical 8.111248

Another, welcome, reissue of Klemperer’s dignified, heroic, well-paced view of Beethoven. The Beethoven symphony discography is extremely well-trodden ground. Excellent new versions (Zinman and the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra on Arte Nova, for example) have continued to appear in an indescribably crowded field. Along with Weingartner, Furtwaengler, Karajan (energy and flow), Boehm (poise and structure) and Carlos Kleiber (his 5 and 7, coupled on mid-price, has for some time now been the leading modern), Klemperer’s place in the history of this repertoire is safe.

Klemperer’s virtues are well-known and need only the briefest recapitulation. His Beethoven has a sense of space and drama, one listens to it as if breathing in clear, healthy mountain air. Klemperer is never hurried, yet his unerring rhythmical sense and cadence allow him to give these most seminal of orchestral works a traditional and awe-inspiring grandeur.

The main “discographical” interest of this reissue is that it uses the mono takes made during the same sessions as the early stereo ones. As with the Gould Goldbergs of 1981, recorded simultaneously in analogue and early digital, producers were cautious about the first stages of a new technology (although the booklet amusingly tells us they often kept this mono-stereo simultaneity secret from the performers, not to risk having to pay them twice over.)

EMI chose the stereo version of 7 for the latest CD issue. The mono 7, here restored to the catalogue, is generally regarded as containing takes that are tighter, more powerful, perhaps less spacious. No-one will be disappointed by Mark Obert-Thorn’s customary care in making this vivid transfer. For anyone interested in the history of Beethoven conducting, or indeed the works themselves, this is required listening. MP’s editor has commented that, in addition to the timeless musical virtues demonstrated on this disc, it is also strongly evocative of Klemperer’s live performances of these works in the fifties, which he (Peter Woolf) had attended.

Ying Chang