Haydn: Favourite Symphonies Nos. 88, 92, 95, 98, 100, 101, 102, 104 (CD review)

Separately, Schumann: Symphonies Nos. 1-4. Klemperer, Philharmonia and New Philharmonia Orchestras. EMI/Warner Classics 5099921530 (Haydn); EMI CMS7- 63613-2 (Schumann).

Originality, singularity, and individuality are elements key to prominence in any field. No one aspiring to greatness can do so through imitation alone. Otto Klemperer was a great conductor because he dared to be different. Unlike many of today's homogeneous conductors, Klemperer was unafraid to impose his personality on his interpretations. Not that all of his performances attained greatness, of course, as the following examples testify, but those that were on target will remain with us for as long as people enjoy music.

Yes, Klemperer's tempos were slow. The man's constant insistence on structural integrity and strong symphonic design often left his music sounding merely slower than that of his rivals. But listen again. Listen to the Schumann First "Spring" Symphony, for instance--the highlight of his Schumann set. The music sings. There is not a trace of the ponderous heaviness of which Klemperer is sometimes accused. There is, instead, a light-footed sureness that creates a totally delightful Spring. It is the best, most thoroughly convincing rendering of this score available. His version of the Fourth is almost equally fetching, but in a different way. It combines a deftness of touch with a powerful, yet well-balanced, rhythmical proposition that produces a performance of towering proportions. Where the First possesses an appropriate spirit of benign vitality, the Fourth has an apt sense of grandiloquence.

Unfortunately, Klemperer's Second and Third Schumann symphonies don't fare as well. No. 3 begins sluggishly and never attains the grandeur for which the conductor was evidently striving. It's a good, if flawed, effort, which is more than can be said about No. 2, which I find simply boring. Nevertheless, with two symphonies that are treasures (Nos. 1 and 4) and one so-so (No. 3), the set is a bargain at mid price. And one can have a little fun with the sound as well. The two earliest symphonies Schumann wrote, Nos. 1 and 4, were also the earliest of this set recorded, in 1966 and 1961 respectively, and the sound is typical of the time: close-up, with a good deal of highlighting of individual instruments and compartmentalizing of orchestral sections. The sonics are stunningly vivid and dynamic in a hi-fi sense, if not too genuine from a concert hall perspective. Nos. 2 and 3, on the other hand, are more realistically recorded. They were made in 1970 and incorporate EMI's later views on natural sound. Miked at a moderate distance, they are not as lucid as the earlier efforts, but the orchestral image is more of a whole, the sounds of the hall and individual instruments blending to produce greater unity and cohesion. Both recording techniques are valid, to be sure, and both methods have their adherents. It's a bonus to hear them in the same set where the differences are so clearly revealed.

Otto Klemperer
This brings us to the Haydn symphonies, recorded in the early to mid Sixties. Here I suspect one's appreciation for Klemperer's performances must depend on one's regard for his recordings of Mozart; they are of the same mold. This is big-scale Haydn, generally slow and steady, emphasizing as always the music's architecture rather than displaying the overt jauntiness of, say, a Beecham or the energetic ardor of a period- instruments group. In most cases, Klemperer's Haydn is like listening to the composer with new ears.

Outstanding among the eight symphonies presented in the set are Nos. 88, 101, 102, and 104, with No. 101 "Clock" a good example of the best of the Klemperer style. It is an enchantingly beautiful performance, the argument strong and the rhythms feather light. This Clock is no modern digital affair, moving without heart or soul, nor is it an old grandfather snoozing laboriously in a corner (although for some listeners, it may come close). This Clock is graceful and ornate, all filigree and glass, inviting us to relax and take our time. (Compare the tempo of the second movement, for instance, to a clock your own with a second hand; the beats tick off almost exactly with the movement of the seconds. Still, too slow for you? Well, as Klemperer might say, "You will get used to it.")

Likewise do the three other Haydn symphonies I enjoyed combine refinement and reason in perfect eighteenth-century order. Regarding the symphonies I enjoyed less well, they are perhaps too much of a good thing, the conductor trying too hard to make every piece sound like a precursor to Beethoven. But when Klemperer is off, it isn't for lack of trying.

These performances are for people seeking something out of the ordinary. The interpretations are uniquely personal and, as such, variable; but when the music is good, it's worth a hundred of anything else.


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 Jon 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 of The $ensible Sound magazine 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 simpleminded, 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 Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. 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 cell phone. 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.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

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