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Wagner: Orchestral Music.

Wagner: Orchestral Music. Otto Klemperer, Philharmonia Orchestra. EMI 7243 5 67896-2.

It should be no secret by now that I love some of the older conductors who were fortunate to live long enough to record a few things in stereo. Among them are Fritz Reiner, whose RCA Living Stereo releases continue to thrill me, and Otto Klemperer, whose recordings from the late fifties, sixties, and early seventies are still amazing, both interpretively and sonically. Unlike so many of today's cookie-cutter conductors, whose music-making is identical to everyone else's, people such as Reiner and Klemperer put their individual stamp on their performances without distorting the composer's intentions. It is a talent that only a few musicians possess.

This two-disc collection of Wagner orchestral music is compiled from several of Klemperer's albums recorded between 1960 and 1963 with his Philharmonia Orchestra at its peak. The man brought to all of his music a heroic feeling of granite construction, every work a towering monument. And what better music is served by this approach than Wagner's, which was towering in every respect?

Not that Klemperer couldn't be playful and lighthearted, too, taking his Mendelssohn and Haydn as examples. But it was in Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, and Wagner that he is best known today. This Wagner collection is second to none.

Klemperer has a way of often making any music seem bigger or more massive than we usually hear it, and with Wagner it works especially well, where everything seems of a piece. The Rienzi overture that opens the set, for example, is beautifully controlled, solidly assembled, yet affectionately dashing. The Tannhauser overture that follows it is my favorite performance of this music, bar none, an ethereal presentation of immense feeling. Likewise are idiosyncratic but always appropriate interpretations of overtures and preludes from Lohengrin, Die Meistersinger, Der fliegende Hollander, Tristan und Isolde, and Parsifal, plus excerpts from Das Rheingold, Die Walkure, Siegfried, and Gotterdammerung. All tracks, all 16 of them, are top-flight.

I'm not sure whether there is any music I own that I have had on so many different discs. First, I owned the LPs. Then I bought the EMI Studio CDs; then the EMI Klemperer Legacy CDs; and now I have this "Great Recordings of the Century" set. Each time it seems to sound better, although to be fair, I believe these are the same Abbey Road Technology (ART) masterings that appeared on the Legacy discs. In any case, the sound is excellent: full, wide-ranging, with a small degree of background hiss if listened to at high volume, not the ultimate in transparency but with a good degree of realistic imaging. I could not recommend any Wagner orchestral music collection more highly.
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Publication:Sensible Sound
Article Type:Sound Recording Review
Date:Apr 1, 2004
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