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Beethoven's Fifth and Seventh, conducted by Carlos Kleiber

I can't find it now, but I'm almost certain that it was someone's comment here, probably Rob G's, that made me aware of Kleiber's recording of these two symphonies. I don't think it was all that long ago--five years? surely not ten?--but it was probably before I had most currently available recorded music at my fingertips via streaming, because I bought the CD. But it was only a week ago that I finally got around to listening to it.

This event was set in motion several weeks ago when I heard Beethoven's Sixth performed by the Mobile Symphony. I had really been looking forward to it, and I did enjoy it, but found it a bit of a letdown. Perhaps that had to do with the performance, and the unfair comparison between the perfection of recordings by the world's greatest performers, and the good but not world-class work of a lesser orchestra. On the other hand, any half-decent live performance has something that no recording can provide. So I don't think it was the orchestra's fault. I felt more that it was the work itself, that I just didn't like it as much as I had thought. Perhaps it was just my mood. Or perhaps it's age: I was effusive about the Sixth fifteen years ago.

Discussing this with my friend who's a classical music expert led to her recommending this recording. "Well, actually, I have it, but have never heard it." She assured me that it would knock my socks off, or words to that effect. I attempted to dampen that expectation, reminding her that I'm not all that sensitive to performance. 

But she was right. I suppose I've heard the Fifth a dozen or so times over fifty years, and of course I like it, but it had never electrified me before. If my socks had physically behaved as the metaphor says, they would have landed on the bookshelf across the room. And the Seventh was if anything even better. 

I'm obliged, in honesty and in acknowledgement of my lack of sensitivity to nuance in performance, to say that I think the recording itself, I mean the sonic quality of the production, played a part in my reaction. It is stunningly sharp and clear and its dynamic range is so great that I thought it must be a digital recording. But it was made in the '70s, when digital recording was still in its infancy. The conversion to digital for the CD used "Original-Image Bit-Processing," whatever that means, so maybe that's part of the reason.

And obviously the clarity is primarily the work of the Vienna Philharmonic itself, which seems almost superhumanly precise. 


I guess it would be superfluous to say that I recommend this recording. Looks like it's on YouTube but I doubt that the sound quality would be as good as the CD.

I didn't know anything about Kleiber beyond his name. I vaguely wondered why, if this recording is considered so great, I had not heard his name more. I found part of the answer in the Wikipedia article; he seems to have been an unusual character, with an unusual career. A conductor who "kept out of the public eye"? That's odd. He didn't make all that many recordings. 


By the way, the Mobile Symphony concert included a flute concerto by Lowell Lieberman. I had no more than the vaguest recollection that I might have heard the composer's name before, and figured that this was what someone has referred to as the OOMP of this concert: Obligatory Opening Modern Piece: spiky, slight, not particularly engaging, and, one hopes, not too long. And I didn't expect it to be especially good. But it is. I wanted to hear it again.

Also, it was not the opening piece. That was Beethoven's Creatures of Prometheus overture. As far as I recall I had never heard it before. I don't really care whether I ever hear it again, either. I've mentioned before that I feel some sort of basic temperamental incompatibility with Beethoven. That doesn't matter with his great works, like the two symphonies here, but I don't think this is one of them.


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It may have been me who mentioned that CD to you. If so, I don't remember when. I'm with you, though -- as much as I like the 5th on there, it's the 7th that really grabbed me.

I've heard of Liebermann but don't know his work. Will give this a listen, although I'm generally not a fan of the flute as a solo instrument.

Ever since I was a kid I wanted to hear a live performance of Beethoven's 9th. In the mid aughts I finally got to hear it performed by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Not a top tier orchestra, but also always quite competent. I especially always liked the concertmaster, Frank Almond. The choir director, Lee Erickson, was also our church's choir director (which tells you something about the quality of our church choir in those days).

I was totally underwhelmed. It seemed to lack the fire and punch that I associate with Beethoven.

At any rate, later I was talking to a member of our church choir about my disappointment. Then she reminded me that she was in the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus and was singing at that performance.

I meant to add *blush* to the previous post, but since I but it between a greater than sign and a lesser than sign, it was filtered out.

The blush was implicit! :-)

Do people still blush these days?

I think it's probably bad manners to refer to it. Possibly racist. It's a white thing. But I think feeling shame is more rare than it used to be.

I've never heard the 9th live. I haven't heard it at all for a long time. But the great finale always seemed to me to be...I hesitate to say this...kind of a mess, so heavy and complex that it just sort of all blurred together. Maybe I'll totally change my mind next time I hear it

Re that recommendation of the Kleiber recording: I'm wondering now whether that was here. Maybe it was a conversation on some other site. Craig Burrell's blog, perhaps. I'm as nearly certain as can be that it happened and that it was the reason I bought the disk. It's conceivable that it was here back when comments were on the old Haloscan system and were lost when I switched to Typepad. But that was some years ago, like maybe 2010.

Carlos Kleiber is my favorite conductor (I particularly love his recording of Brahms' 4th), so it is frustrating to me how few recordings of his there are to be found.

I also have often found myself underwhelmed by Beethoven's 6th, although it is pleasant enough.

Wasn't it you who named the fourth movement of Brahms 4 as one of your absolute favorite pieces of music?

Btw I don't make any big claims for the Liebermann concerto. I'm not a big fan of the flute as a solo instrument. But it's an enjoyable piece.

Yes, I did say that. And Kleiber's is my favorite recording of it. The way he conducts it has a sort of tightness or closeness, as opposed to the more expansive or even melodramatic interpretation of Bernstein. I see Kleiber as restraining himself from adding excess sentimentality, and thereby allowing the true emotion of the piece to shine through. This is especially important for Brahms, who, being classically influenced, often uses the very form of the music to bring about an emotional thrill.

Not that Bernstein is a bad conductor. In fact he's a great conductor. I just think his approach works better for composers such as Mahler, with all their unrestrained passion and sentimentality.

In a way the difference between Kleiber and Bernstein is a bit like the difference between the melancholic and the sanguine temperaments. The melancholic feels things very deeply but doesn't show a lot on the surface. The sanguine is outwardly very passionate, but calms down quickly because he is not deeply impacted by the emotion he felt.

Here's a video comparing these two interpretations: https://youtu.be/A4HQn9jSJj0?si=WgX_P8Jb_QZxi6FX

I'm definitely partial to a restrained approach, so I will probably agree with you, if the difference is even noticeable to me. I very much look forward to watching that video--thank you.

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