GHCD 2360 – Otto Klemperer – Bach, 1945 & 1950
Anna Báthy (soprano 1), Judit Sándor (soprano 2), Magda Tiszay (contralto), Lajos Somogyvári (tenor), György Littasy (bass), Oliver Nagy (continuo), Sandor Margittay (organ), Budapest Chorus, Miklós Forrai (Ch.Master), Otto Klemperer (conductor)
International Record Review – February 2012
In January 1950 Otto Klemperer conducted Bach’s Fifth Brandenburg Concerto (with Annie Fischer as the solo pianist) and the Magnificat, both with Budapest Radio forces. The Magnificat is gritty and exciting in typical Klemperer style from this time in his career: it’s trenchant, uncompromising, rugged and highly convincing on its own terms, though those terms include the anachronism of a piano continuo in the arias. The Hungarian soloists (Anna Báthy, Judit Sándor, Magda Tiszay, Lajos Somogyvári and György Littasy) and the Budapest Chorus seem tremendously enthused by their great conductor. The same is true of the Fifth Brandenburg (or ‘Brandenberg’ as the front cover unfortunately has it) and Annie Fischer’s first movement cadenza is every bit as thrilling as might be expected. The first two tracks on the disc are Klemperer’s own string orchestra arrangement of `Bist du bei mir’ and the Air from the Third Orchestral Suite, both with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1945, but it’s the Hungarian performances of the Magnificat and the Fifth Brandenburg that stand out, and both are in decent broadcast mono sound.
MusicWeb International November 2011
Claudio von Foerster’s booklet notes begin:
“It was a true miracle. Vienna 1947: poverty, famine and other consequences of the war. People with sad faces assembled to listen to a 62 year old man who, also partially disabled, walked painfully toward the rostrum. The music started and everything changed in the mood of the concert hall: noisy applause and lots of tears in the eyes of the audience. Klemperer’s magic was at work”.
If you like this sort of swoony-weepy gossip-columnist style, you will be pleased to know there are three whole pages of it. If you don’t, you will at least be relieved to hear that the three pages do, after their fashion, reasonably chart Klemperer’s career. All the same, as far as the booklet goes, you may reflect that you’ve parted with money to get something you could get much better free on Internet. The Wikipedia article, for a start, offers a balanced and frank view of Klemperer’s triumphant ups and sometimes disturbing downs. But, whatever, this is the sort of account, illustrated with ubiquitous repertory photos like the group of Walter, Toscanini, Kleiber, Klemperer and Furtwängler in the 1920s, that would be of use only to the Klemperer novice. And these dim if listenable early relics of a conductor who recorded well into the stereo era are assuredly not for the Klemperer novice. They are for specialists who might welcome information and discussion about these particular recordings, how they fit into the Klemperer canon and so on. It would be nice, too, to know something about the several other artists involved, hardly household names with one very obvious exception.
So let’s get to the record. The detailed Klemperer discography on the Internet lists all these performances and indicates earlier issues of the Los Angeles items and the Magnificat but not the Brandenburg Concerto, which would therefore appear to be issued for the first time. And it is the real revelation of the CD.
“Bist du bei mir” is tarted up by Klemperer with some droll Regerish inner lines. It is played with gravity. I have listed the piece in the header as it appears on the track list. Klemperer was presumably unaware that this popular trifle is not by Bach at all but from an opera by Gottfried Heinrich Stötzel (1690-1749) which enjoyed a vogue in Leipzig in Bach’s day. Guild have less excuse.
The “Air” from the Third Suite is played with fervour. Klemperer is right not to have the bass line played legato, but the lumpy, un-phrased response – a problem that remained with some of his Philharmonia Bach too – weighs increasingly on the performance as it plods through its six-and-a-half minutes.
The Magnificat has a gutsy if ragged chorus, good sopranos, a powerful Amneris of a contralto, a neat but light-toned bass and a tenor who is, well, a tenor. We won’t quote Hans von Bülow on the subject but suffering is assured. And it has a piano continuo. This lends a surreal air to the more lightly scored movements, in which the piano is well to the fore. One is reminded of local choral society rehearsals aided and abetted by a valiant pianist. Klemperer’s tempi are not quite up to today’s HIP renderings but brisk by 1950 standards. Over and above all this he obtains, especially in the final choruses, a massive conviction. No other performance of this work under Klemperer appears to survive, but the odds are stacked against it being more than a curiosity.
The presence of a piano in the Brandenburg Concerto, strangely enough, seems not so much to date the performance as to give it a timeless air. The tempo in the first movement is pretty swift, the textures light, the pacing joyful and the interplay between the three soloists perfectly balanced. Annie Fischer’s passage-work suggests not so much the traditional pearls but a clear night sky full of shooting stars – my turn to be swoony-weepy. I’ve never heard the long cadenza so perfectly integrated into the rest of the movement. This is one of those occasions when a Klemperer-miracle has happened. The concept of “tempo”, fast or slow, disappears, for the music simply unfolds, suspended in time, from first note to last.
The second movement is also beautifully played. The only problem with the finale is that Klemperer, like most artists back then, seemingly didn’t know that the dotted rhythms need to be smoothed out to match the triplets. Playing them literally introduces a dogged feeling into a performance that is, in its intentions, springy and joyful.
But still, that first movement is a miracle. Lovers of Klemperer and of Bach alike will need it. It may seem extravagant to recommend a disc just for one track, but miracles are without price.
The first movement of the Brandenburg Concerto is a miracle. Rather more caution is needed elsewhere.
Audiophile Audition October 12, 2011
The reverence conductor Otto Klemperer (1885-1973) maintained for the music of J.S. Bach finds some testimony here, in concerts culled from venues in Los Angeles and Budapest, 1945 and 1950. In a brief interview I had with pianist Leon Fleisher two years ago, I asked Fleisher the difference between a collaboration with George Szell and one with Otto Klemperer: “With Klemperer I had more of a sense of the transcendent,” Fleisher quipped without even a moment’s hesitation.
The large work presented on this disc is the 13 January 1950 Bach Magnificat made at the Radio Budapest studios. A churning power infiltrates the entire performance, although the unity of ensemble occasionally breaks down. I find Lajos Somogyvari’s tenor quite attractive; the second soprano Judit Sandor’s top becomes scratchy. After a potent choral number, “Fecit potential,” the tenor aria “Deposuit potentes” addresses the same issue of numinous power. Yet the individual instrumental soli, the flutes and oboes, can project an uncanny delicacy of tone, their timbres melting in lovely fashion in the alto’s “esurientes implicit bonis.” The “continuo” as such is supplied by Oliver Nagy’s piano, so purists need not apply. After an affecting Terzett for soprano and alto, the final chorus, “Gloria Patri,” builds impressively from the resonant male basses through the high sopranos, then reasserts itself after a pregnant caesura, a kind of motet-recitative of stunning effect underlined by the tympani. The full complement of horns, flutes, and strings then reverberates with the unabashed Glory to God.
The two opening string arrangements, of the “Bist du bei mir” from Anna Magdalena’s Notebook and the Air of the G String (11 February and 16 December 1945), convey that immediate aura of earthbound spirituality. While not so awesome in its “sanctity” as is the Furtwaengler Air, the Klemperer certainly sustains the singing line as spun gold into interstellar space. For the bubbling Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D (13 January 1950), Klemperer has his old colleague Annie Fischer (1914-1995) at the keyboard, a rare treat for collectors and connoisseurs both! Tibor Ney, violin, and Janos Szebenyi provide the complement of the continuo players, and the immediacy of their musical intimacy becomes apparent, a sunny rendition par excellence that does not skimp of the piano’s pure bravura. By the last chord of the final Allegro, our enchantment is complete, and the Klemperer mystique has more than justified itself.