Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 4 (CD review)

Also, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Incidental Music. Heather Harper, Janet Baker; Otto Klemperer, Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus. EMI Classics CDM 7243 5 67038 2 7.

I love reissues. They're so easy. They take the suspense out of buying music; you know when you're buying something you like. Klemperer's Mendelssohn, for instance, recorded in 1960, is something to like.

It may seem ironic that a man with Klemperer's reputation for dealing with massive constructions in massive sound should be equally at home in music so delicate and airy as Mendelssohn's, but it's true. Klemperer could be remarkably sensitive in the music of Mendelssohn, Schubert, Schumann, Haydn, and Mozart as well as the more monumental productions of Beethoven, Bruckner, Wagner, and Mahler. The fact is, you will not find a more relaxed Mendelssohn Fourth Symphony on record than Klemperer's. The first movement is sunny and light rather than viscerally exciting. It reflects the sunny, southern Italian shores rather than the high mountains of the north. If you want excitement, stick with Abbado (HDTT, Decca, or the later DG). Klemperer's handling of the second movement flows gently along, smoothly integrating with a graceful third movement minuet. Then his fourth movement bursts forth into as joyous a finale as you will find anywhere.

Otto Klemperer
The coupling is doubly apt because never before have I heard a stronger connection between the Fourth Symphony and the Incidental Music from A Midsummer Night's Dream. Under Klemperer's direction, the tempos, the phrasing, the overall mood, are all conveyed with the same remarkable cordiality. It is as if one were a natural extension of the other, the symphony made to sound more like the fairy music of Shakespeare's creation than under any other conductor. Well, Klemperer had already had a lifetime of playing the Midsummer Night's Dream music, which he considered one of his favorite works when he recorded it here, so I suppose practice makes perfect. Only Previn's rendering, also on EMI (now Warner), is as good, with its more complete score and even smoother sound. 

The Klemperer sound, though, is vintage EMI and vintage Walter Legge, the producer who was such a stickler about everything. Sonically, there is little difference between this remastering of the Fourth Symphony on this "Klemperer Legacy" reissue and EMI's earlier mastering of several years before. It remains a tad thin and bright but exceptionally clean and clear, with excellent stage depth. The percussion, timpani, cymbals, etc., which belong at the rear at the orchestra, really are at the rear of the orchestra.

Previously, in order to get both of these Klemperer recordings, you had to pay for two separate discs. With this particular reissue, you get two great performances coupled together on a single, mid-priced release that must be counted an incomparable bargain. How I love reissues.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:

1 comment:

John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa