Day 31: Symphony No. 5 in B Flat Major (Klemperer)

This afternoon, I am listening to Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 5 in B Flat Major (WAB 105), nicknamed “Pizzicato Symphony” or “Tragic,” interpreted by German-born conductor and composer Otto Klemperer (1885-1973).

Prior to this Bruckner project, I had never heard of Otto Klemperer – although I had heard of his son, actor Werner Klemperer, most famous for his portrayal of Col. Klink, Kommandant of Stalag 13 in the 1960s TV series Hogan’s Heroes. However, I did not know Werner’s dad was Otto Klemperer until this afternoon.

The first time I heard Otto Klemperer was on Day 23, Symphony No. 4.

From his entry on Wikipedia,

Otto Klemperer (1885-1973) was a German-born conductor and composer. He is widely regarded as one of the leading conductors of the 20th century.

Otto Klemperer was born in Breslau, Silesia Province, then in Germany (now Wrocław, Poland), as a son of Nathan Klemperer, a native of Prague, Bohemia (today’s Czech Republic). His parents were Jewish. Klemperer studied music first at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt, and later at the Stern Conservatory in Berlin under James Kwast and Hans Pfitzner. He followed Kwast to three institutions and credited him with the whole basis of his musical development. In 1905 he met Gustav Mahler while conducting the off-stage brass at a performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, Resurrection. He also made a piano reduction of the second symphony. The two men became friends, and Klemperer became conductor at the German Opera in Prague in 1907 on Mahler’s recommendation. Mahler wrote a short testimonial, recommending Klemperer, on a small card which Klemperer kept for the rest of his life. Later, in 1910, Klemperer assisted Mahler in the premiere of his Symphony No. 8, Symphony of a Thousand.

Klemperer went on to hold a number of positions, in Hamburg (1910–1912); in Barmen (1912–1913); the Strasbourg Opera (1914–1917); the Cologne Opera (1917–1924); and the Wiesbaden Opera House (1924–1927). From 1927 to 1931, he was conductor at the Kroll Opera in Berlin. In this post he enhanced his reputation as a champion of new music, playing a number of new works, including Janáček’s From the House of the Dead, Schoenberg’s Erwartung, Stravinsky’s Oedipus rex, and Hindemith’s Cardillac.

On March 22, 1920 his wife soprano Johanna Geisler gave birth to their son, the German-American actor Werner Klemperer.

Many listeners associate Klemperer with slow tempos, but recorded evidence now available on compact disc shows that in earlier years his tempi could be quite a bit faster; the late recordings give a misleading impression.

Regardless of tempo, Klemperer’s performances often maintain great intensity, and are richly detailed.

Maestro Klemperer’s orchestra is the Philharmonia Orchestra.

From the orchestra’s entry on Wikipedia,

The Philharmonia Orchestra is a British orchestra based in London. It was founded in 1945 by Walter Legge, a classical music record producer for EMI. Since 1995, the orchestra has been based in the Royal Festival Hall. The Philharmonia also has residencies at De Montfort Hall, Leicester, the Corn Exchange, Bedford, and The Anvil, Basingstoke. Esa-Pekka Salonen has been the orchestra’s principal conductor and artistic advisor since 2008, and Vladimir Ashkenazy and Christoph von Dohnányi both conduct the Philharmonia Orchestra regularly.

The Philharmonia Orchestra tours widely, regularly welcomes top soloists and conductors, and performs more than 160 concerts a year, as well as recording music for films and computer games. Performing more than 35 concerts a year at Royal Festival Hall, the orchestra notably presents premieres of contemporary works, along with the classics. Since its inception in 1945, the Philharmonia has commissioned more than 100 compositions from composers that include Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Mark-Anthony Turnage and James MacMillan.

Here are the objective aspects of today’s recording:

Bruckner’s Symphony No. 5 in B Flat Major (WAB 105), composed 1875–1876
Otto Klemperer conducts
Klemperer used the “1878 version, ed. Nowak,” according to the liner notes
New Philharmonia Orchestra plays
The symphony clocks in at 79:29
This was recorded in London, England, on March 9, 11, 14 & 15, 1967
Klemperer was 82 when he conducted it
Bruckner was 52 when he finished composing it (the first time)
This recording was released on the Warner Classics label

Bruckner wrote his symphonies in four movements. The time breakdown of this one (Symphony No. 5 in B Flat Major), from this particular conductor (Klemperer) and this particular orchestra (New Philharmonia Orchestra) is as follows:

I. Adagio — Allegro……………………………………………………………………..21:20
II. Adagio – Sehr langsam. (Very slowly)……………………………………..16:37
III. Scherzo – Molto vivace…………………………………………………………..14:44
IV. Finale (Adagio) — Allegro moderato……………………………………..26:46

Total running time: 79:29

Of the 1878 version, its entry on Wikipedia reads,

1878 version
This is the version normally performed. It exists in editions by Robert Haas (published 1935) and Leopold Nowak (published 1951) which are almost identical.

From the liner notes, written by Richard Osborne,

Otto Klemperer

Otto Klemperer, who died in Zurich in 1973 at the age of 88, was the last of a generation of great conductors who had been nurtured within a late 19th-century European culture where music was central to the intellectual and spiritual life of the civilisation it served.

Okay. Now, here are the subjective aspects of today’s recording:

My Rating:
Recording quality: 5 (ambient sounds that only add to the experience)
Overall musicianship: 5
CD liner notes: 2 (typically thin Warner Classics fare – very short essays about Klemper and Bruckner)
How does this make me feel: 5


As I found the previous Klemperer recording, this performance is also a rich, vibrant, transcendent performance – despite the age of the recording.

Even though it was recorded a half century ago (almost to the day), this sounded remarkably fresh and dynamic.

You can read background on Otto Klemperer in my previous entry about him from Day 23.

Suffice to say, he was alive when Bruckner was alive. I find that fascinating, for some reason.

As for this recording, every moment has something of value to share with me, from Movement I onward.

This time, I think the Finale grabbed me by the gonads.

I’m surprised by how good this is, despite its age. The combination of Klemperer, a very fine orchestra, and a brilliant recording technician seems to have resulted in something lovers of Bruckner’s music will be able to enjoy for many decades to come.

Highly recommended.

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