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The Otto Klemperer Memorial Concert
Masonic Funeral Music
- Symphony No. 9
Margaret Price/Yvonne Minton/Werner Hollweg/Norman Bailey
New Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus/Rafael Kubelik
Recorded 1974

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Klemperer died on 6 July 1973 and it fell to a good friend, the Czech, Rafael Kubelik, to conduct his memorial concert at the Royal Festival Hall on 14 January 1974 with a line-up of soloists who had worked with Klemperer (notably in the music of Mozart or Wagner). The orchestra was the one he had helped in its early stages back in the 1960s when it rose like a phoenix from the ashes of its Philharmonia predecessor, whose existence was so cruelly terminated by its founder Walter Legge. Kubelik's career had a chequered history for he often suffered at the hands of critics, frequently without any substance other than personal dislike, and an idiotic attack on him by Beecham. For example his tenure of the Music Directorships of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as well as both Covent Garden and the Met were brief. Even this concert had a carping response from some quarters, where it was virtually expected that a concert in memoriam of Klemperer (and especially its choice of programme with which he was so closely identified) would produce interpretations in the Klemperer style.

The sombre, dignified tones of the Masonic Funeral music take a few minutes to focus and coalesce into a unified ensemble, the double bassoon needing a few kick-starts to get the reed working, but the entry of the strings give the winds more courage. Indeed it is that occasional lack of unanimity, perhaps his beat was hard to read that night (though scarcely harder than Klemperer's had been at the end of his life!), which one could fault. Kubelik's textures are translucent in the Ninth. His interpretation looks back to the 18th century Beethoven as much as forward to the ground-breaking composer of the 19th. The performance has much warmth and humanity, qualities one readily associates with Kubelik, a lightness of touch in the scherzo, and a sense of searing profundity in the Adagio. Bailey's start at the recitative sounds just like Wotan chastising his errant daughter Brunnhilde (he had recorded the god's Farewell with Klemperer). The laser-bright tones of Price are a joy as ever (that we lost her to Germany for so much of the rest of her career remains a scandal). With the fresh-toned Hollweg and the golden lustre of Minton (a glorious Cherubino under Klemperer) the singers form a first-rate quartet. The remaining laurels go to Wilhelm Pitz's Philharmonia Chorus (fine diction throughout) and the orchestra, though the biggest must still be reserved for Kubelik, a conductor who undeservedly received too many brickbats and not enough plaudits.

Christopher Fifield

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