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BRAHMS & WAGNER - Klemperer

BRAHMS: Symphony No. 1 / Academic Festival Overture / WAGNER: Tristan und Isolde, Act I: Prelude (1859 version) / Siegfried Idyll

Berlin State Opera Orchestra / Otto Klemperer

Naxos Historical 8.111274 [1927-28]

It was salutary to play this recording the morning after an evening of Wagner "bleeding chunks" with a crack orchestra and star conductor at the acoustically improved Royal Festival Hall.

It took but a couple of mintues to become accustomed and comfortable with sound from 1927, my own birth year, and think myself back to the early '40s at boarding school, when I began to get to know "the classics".

Some of those occasions are imprinted on my memory, e.g. Kreisler's Beethoven concerto with a girlfriend on the school field, with a wind-up gramophone and thorn needles, the music ending quietly; only discovering later that was because we'd been playing the wrong side of the shellac disc by mistake. I've rarely been so engrossed with the Beethoven violin concerto again...

I became acquainted with Klemperer's way with his Beethoven cycle at the (fairly new ?) Festival Hall, and for a long time that remained my standard. In his excellent note for Naxos, Colin Anderson reminds us how Klemperer got slower & slower as he got older. He was "a master structuralist" as this first of his recordings of Brahms No 1 demonstrates. It took all of five days' sessions to complete the recording, spaced out from December 1927 to June 1928; it scarcely shows ! The essence of this great symphony is all there and it would be no huge tragedy if posterity by some mischance was to be left with only the score and this CD.

I enjoy good up-to-date digital reproduction as well as the next music lover, but it is of the lowest importance in our priorities. And many of these historical reissues sound better than ever before, notably when the refurbishment is in the hands of Mark Obert-Thorn, whose transfers have given us great satisfaction over the years.

At budget price this is a bargain that should not disappoint.

Peter Grahame Woolf