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Symphony No.7


Gavotte with Six Variations

Philharmonia and New Philharmonia Orchestras Conducted by Otto Klemperer
EMI "The Klemperer Legacy" CDM5 67330 2

Klemperer's recording of Bruckner 7 with the Philharmonia is a valuable document. Made in 1960, it was his first Bruckner recording with the Philharmonia, and captures Klemperer before the full onset of his late, slow phase. Klemperer went on to make fine recordings with the Philharmonia and New Philharmonia of the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 9th, as well as a ponderous 8th marred by a big cut in the finale. These later efforts are broader in tempo and some (not including me) find them insupportably slow. In the 7th, Klemperer's tempos are moderate but never sluggish, and the direct style and unglamorized nobility of expression that typify his conducting at his best are fully in evidence. Earlier live recordings of Klemperer in Bruckner reveal faster-than-average tempos and more emphasis on drama, but for me the balance between grandeur and drama in this 7th is exactly right.

The Philharmonia's playing is extraordinarily beautiful throughout in all departments, but the glorious wind playing is especially fine; as usual, Klemperer favors them in the balance so that they are never submerged, as so often with other conductors, in a wash of "big" string sound. Not that the strings are shortchanged: their luminous and cleanly-voiced sound is the foundation of the performance, the clarity enhanced by the divided violin seating. Klemperer is one of the relatively small number of conductors who knows how to keep the finale from seeming anticlimactic after the great Adagio; here his basic tempo is a little broader than average, giving the movement the extra weight and power that it needs. This is an indispensable performance, and should be the starting point for anyone wanting to explore Klemperer's work as a Brucknerian.

Klemperer's 7th was digitally remastered in 1988, and issued on CD in the EMI Studio series (CDM 7 69126 2); there was also another CD issue that I have not heard. The 1988 CD has always seemed to me one of EMI's worst remastering jobs; the sound is dull, tubby, and overresonant, with the brass quite recessed and inner lines obscured in a very un-Klempererish way. The CD sounded much worse than other contemporaneous Kingsway Hall recordings with Klemperer, and I always wondered whether Walter Legge and his engineers were having a particularly bad day at the recording console.

This 7th is now reissued in the Klemperer Legacy series, freshly remastered with all modern bells and whistles (24 bits, "Abbey Road Technology", etc). The difference is extraordinary, though I suspect it has little to do with said bells and whistles. What EMI has done is completely to alter the frequency balance in the recording. The bass boominess is tamed, and the high frequencies brought way up. The result changes the whole sound picture; the brass is now forthright, inner wind lines are clean, and the impression is of a much more direct sonic experience. Spot sampling suggests that the mid-bass has been tamed by about 4 dB, and the high treble boosted by as much as 12 dB. This is roughly equivalent to playing the old recording with your bass control at about 9 o'clock and your treble at about 4 o'clock (which helps the old sound, but not enough). I also wondered if some kind of fake echo, added to the earlier release, has been removed here. But it may be that the improvement is purely due to correcting the frequency balance.

There is a small price to pay for this rebalancing, in that tape hiss (inescapable in 1960) is much more prominent in the new release, even though the ART noise-shaping does reduce some of the salience of the hiss. To my ear, the added hiss is a small price to pay for the newly-revealed clarity of sound. This record will never become an audiophile classic, but the sound is among the best of its time and is more than good enough to allow full appreciation of the performance.

It has been claimed that the 1988 remastering of this record was pitched slightly flat; the new one is pitched the same as the old. I am not very sensitive to absolute pitch, but cannot hear a difference between the pitch of Klemperer's recording and others in direct comparison.

The new CD is most peculiarly filled with Klemperer's orchestration of a Rameau harpsichord Gavotte with variations, recorded in 1968 and not previously issued on CD in the west. This piece is engaging in a grandly bizarre way, but should probably be avoided by anyone who believes in historically informed performance practice -- it's about as historically uninformed as you can get. It does make me wonder how EMI has been choosing the couplings for their Klemperer Legacy disks; this is only one of many weird combinations. One can only guess that EMI decided to mix things up so that anyone with previous issues of the material would have to buy the largest possible number of new issues to duplicate their old holdings.

But never mind the coupling. This record captures a great interpretation by one of the most important Bruckner conductors of the 20th century, and is at last presented in sound worthy of the performance. Whether or not you had the misfortune to know the old remastering, you should not hesitate to acquire the new one.

Tony Movshon



Sound quality

(was in the old issue)

See also review by Tony Duggan

Reviews from previous months

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