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Carlos Kleiber on Beethoven

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BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 4 in B
flat major Op. 60 BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 6 in F
flat major Op. 68
Orfeo C 100 841 B
Symphony No. 4 in B flat major Op. 60
Orfeo C 600 031 B
Symphony No. 6 in F flat major Op. 68
1. Adagio – Allegro vivace 1. Allegro ma non troppo
2. Adagio 2. Andante molto mosso
3. Menuetto. Allegro vivace 3. Allegro
4. Allegro ma non troppo 4. Allegro
5. Applaus 5. Allegretto

Carlos Kleiber (1930 – 2004) fans don’t need my opinion to buy any of his releases; and non-fans won’t buy it just because I insist. So, here I go anyway: Beethoven’s middle symphonies hold aspecial place in Carlos Kleiber’s heart.

For decades, his DG Viennese sessions of No. 5 and 7 have been his only authorized Beethoven Symphonies in circulation on this planet. “Only when his freezer was empty did he deign to pick up the baton,” Herbert von Karajan once opined. With a faster tempo in certain movements, his reading of them are nonetheless substantially more focused in continuity than any other of his colleagues, including von Karajan‘s. In terms of releasing the spark of spontaneity from the symphonies he graced, no conductor in his days could rival him. Yet, in the end, Kleiber never chose to share his inner soul on the great Eroica or the monumental Choral with us.

His rare ongoing concert engagement with the Bavarian Opera between 1978 and 1983 spawned a Munich May/1983 live concert release of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4, which again, dwarfs von Karajan’s versions in its appropriately energetic pacing in portrayal of the composer’s outlook on love and passion. In the ensuing decades, this Orfeo release gradually disappeared from the catalog and became one of the most sought after Kleiber discs among collectors and connoisseurs alike.

Classical fans worldwide remember the event with fondness, and envy those who bought the limited and overpriced 1984 Orfeo disc. I was but an ignorant teenage playboy in those years who didn‘t know better, and bought the disc under intensely good-natured pressure from a friend, who was the manager of a neglected, small, back-of-the-store classical CD section in a sizable record store.

Now, Kleiber is dead, officially lowering the world curtain on the last generation of towering conductors we have had the good fortune of living among us. But months before his death on July 12, 2004 at the age of 74, Bavarian State Orchestra, by way of the Orfeo label again, reissued the pristine-sounding Fourth in another limited circulation (Orfeo C100 841 B), followed by another live recording that Kleiber shared with them 6 months after the Fourth, on November 7, 1983: the quintessential Pastoral (Orfeo C600 031B)!

With the Pastoral, we are now blessed with four of Beethoven’s central Symphonies conducted by Carlos Kleiber, with the No. 4 and 6 on Orfeo, and No. 5 and 7 on Deutsche Grammophon.

Is this what Beethoven had envisioned when he committed Pastoral onto paper? It must be. While the CD booklet tells us Kleiber is the first conductor to fully observe the First Movement’s original, faster pacing intent, the fact that he also succeeded in thoroughly conveying and preserving the work’s inner orchestral colors at such brisk pace is an absolute wonder. Above all, we are told that “Carlos Kleiber has conducted the work only once in his career, performing it with the Bavarian State Orchestra on 7 November 1983.”

There is not a single moment of indiscretion in BSO’s playing, nor is there a fleeing moment of negligence in Kleiber’s reading, rendering each phrasing vital and irrepressible in its force to convey messages of sorts, conjuring up the most surreal Pastoral in existence.

For example, the First Movement, “Awakening of Cheerful Feelings on Arriving in the Country,” sounds decidedly merrier in Kleiber’s hands and – more direct. Bruno Walter and Vladimir Ashkenazy, to name a few other world-class conductors having attempted the score, had not given carelessness and mindlessness a moment’s chance to surface in their readings, and though as fine and universally acclaimed as their interpretations are, theirs are not as involving as Kleiber’s.

Next, the “Andante molto mosso” 2nd Movement, “Scene by the Brook,” is not deprived of liveliness in its depiction of a lazy afternoon’s gathering by the brook, contrasting all other readings that sound much mundane and spiritless. This is where you realize that Kleiber was perhaps the first conductor capable of reconstructing Beethoven’s thoughts in the most faithful state, and he really did not conduct per se insomuch as he simply “fine-tuned” the Bavaria State Orchestra to do the job as Beethoven envisioned. What an empowering experience it must have been for the musicians.

Many consider the Six’s most appealing passages to be the uninterrupted 3rd, 4th and 5th Movements, namely, “Merry Gathering of the Country Folk,” “Thunderstorm,” and “Shepherd‘s Song — Happy, Thankful Feelings after the Storm.’ Undoubtedly the high points of the score, the music summons the most refined sensitivity from the players and draws from their virtuosic excellence simultaneously, luring the audience into the Beethovenian landscape.

With the playing of this Pastoral so unprecedentedly communicative and definitive, one wonders how much farther the BSO could have gone in the world scene had it been able to secure a Kleiber directorship for another decade or so. I believe that everyone is equal everywhere. In the ways of the classical music, ethnicity then speaks volume of how a music will sound. Just as it generally takes Russians to recreate an authentic Tchaikovsky sound, it sometimes takes a German to reveal to us the world of Beethoven.

At the conclusion of the last note, only a handful of applause were initially produced by the audience, and even that was not fast enough. Then, it halted in hesitance, as if the early clappers realized the majority of the audience would blame them for an inevitable bidding of farewell. An uproar ensued sure enough, permeated by elated shouts and words in the native tongue.

According to Stewart Spencer’s translation of Lillian Kleiber’s text from the CD’s booklet, “Even though the Pastoral must have been intimately familiar to the majority of the audience, applause was slow in coming: this excursion into the country had been so beautiful and so enthralling that listeners simply refused to believe that it was over. A few concert-goers began hesitantly to applaud, but the rest of the audience continued to sit there as though under a spell. Only when Carlos Kleiber brought the orchestra to their feet a few moments later did jubilant applause break loose. All who were there on that occasion will concur with Hans Gohl when he wrote in the Munchner Merkur that it was ‘an evening of the greatest musical fulfillment’.

On Sound

Although I consider myself extremely lucky in being able to play Kleiber’s Beethoven Fourth through all these years, I wasn’t lucky enough like the audience and BSO to have breathed the same air with Kleiber.

More unfortunate is the fact that BSO weren’t able to preserve the Pastoral master tape as properly as it did with the Fourth, and had to resort to an audio cassette recording of the same event to provide for this release. Audiophiles with Genesis I.I will immediately protest the dynamically compressed and tonally dull Pastoral; but Kleiber fans and Beethoven enthusiasts will happily look beyond the sonic deficiency and derive tremendous joy from it.

Also, one would think that any orchestra would give a Carlos Kleiber master tape the best care for it’s own sake, if not also for the sake of posterity. Adding to my agony is a copy controlled scheme embedded into the Pastoral, which not only is potentially disruptive in sound, but also negates playback in a PC. Talk about putting a final nail into the coffin.

The reissued Kleiber Beethoven Fourth, then, provides a dramatic contrast in its clearer and more dynamic sound to the original release (Orfeo C100 841 A) from twenty-one years ago. Though expensive in any period’s standard, the twenty-some minute long symphony is not to be missed again this time around.

In a day when even the revered DG would couple Beethoven’s massive Fifth and the comparable Seventh by Kleiber into one single disc, Orfeo can use every competitive edge it can muster to stay in business. Throwing the sub optimal sounding Pastoral into the marketplace is not exactly a sound marketing move.

Review System:

47 Laboratory 4704 PiTracer CD transport with two Power Humpties
Audio Note DAC 5 Special (upgraded)
Harmonix Reimyo CAT-777 preamplifier
Linn Klimax Twin stereo power amplifier
Audio Note AN-E SEC Silver loudspeaker

Via Audio Note Sogon digital cable, Sogon interconnects, AN-Vx
interconnects, Sogon speaker cable, Harmonix Reimyo Studio
Master AC cords.

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