Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 6 "Pastoral" (CD review)

Otto Klemperer, Philharmonia Orchestra. EMI CDM 7243-5-66792-2.

When Klemperer's producer, Walter Legge, asked if he didn't think Klemperer took his recording of the Beethoven Sixth Symphony's scherzo a little too slowly, Klemperer replied, "Walter, you will get used to it." Well, we've had over sixty years to get used to it, and I suspect it has by now pretty much grown on us.

Klemperer's performance of the Sixth continues to be one of the most relaxed, leisurely, bucolic interpretations ever put to disc. It has not and will not find favor among the Toscanini crowd, but it has delighted most everyone else since EMI recorded it in 1957.

The conductor takes the first movement, "The Arrival in the Country," very deliberately, very purposefully, its repetitions made weightier through its unhurried pace, yet never dragging, never feeling lugubrious. The second movement, "The Scene at the Brook," flows naturally and smoothly, maintaining the easygoing nature of the setting. Then comes Klemperer's famous third movement, usually a quick and boisterous Allegro representing peasant merrymaking, but here taken as though the peasants were more than tipsy when the scherzo started. The storm that follows is weightily structured in big, bold outlines, flowing effortlessly into one of the most joyous "Shepherd's Hymn" in any Sixth interpretation around. This is no namby-pamby performance, but one with a clear and assertive vision of pastoral life.

Otto Klemperer
For what it's worth, by the way, I consider it pretty much a toss-up among four classic recordings of the Sixth as to which is my favorite: Karl Bohm and the Vienna Philharmonic (DG); Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony (JVC, HDTT, or RCA); Bruno Walter and the Columbia Symphony Orchestra (Sony, and especially Sony Japan's Blu-Spec CD); and this Klemperer release on EMI. Any time I play any one of them, that one goes to the top of my list, so there's no clear winner for me.

My past reservations about the recording (made by producer Walter Legge and engineer Douglas Larter in Kingsway Hall, London) were in regard to the sound of the original LP and the recording's previous CD embodiment, which tended to be somewhat thin, harsh, and noisy. By comparison, this 1998 20-bit remastering, a part of EMI's "Klemperer Legacy" series, is smoother, fuller, and quieter. Nonetheless, the remastering retains a good deal of clarity, sounding more transparent than a lot of new releases.

The disc's coupling, Klemperer's recording of the Beethoven First Symphony, seems not nearly so characterful as his Sixth, sounding a little too massive to convey all of the work's good cheer. Nevertheless, it also seems more richly recorded than the Sixth. Go figure.

Of final note: EMI later reissued the same mastering of the Sixth as here in their "Great Performances of the Century" series, albeit with several Beethoven overtures as couplings instead of the First Symphony. You'll find that review here: https://classicalcandor.blogspot.com/search?q=beethoven+symphony+no.+6+klemperer

JJP

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


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

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. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa