ERICH KLEIBER
"Orchestral Showpieces" by Beethoven, Berlioz, Lanner, Nikolai, J. Strauss Jr., Reznicek, R. Strauss, and Stravinsky.

Berliner Philharmoniker; Erich Kleiber/cond. (recorded 1930-1934)
Teldec Telefunken Legacy 3984-28407 (F) (ADD) TT: 71:42 

With a couple of exceptions—Beethoven's Coriolan and Berlioz's Benvenuto Cellini Overtures, plus Stravinsky's Fireworks—these are what Sir Thomas Beecham called "Lollipops." Light music without being "pops" in any way, mostly played with singleness of purpose and panache by Wilhelm Furtw”ngler's Philharmoniker under the guest-direction of a most eminent colleague. Vienna-born, Prague-trained Erich Kleiber (father of reclusive Carlos, now 70, who only conducts when he runs out of money) was music director of the Berlin Staatsoper from 1923-34—the former Hofoper unter den Linden. There Kleiber Sr. conducted the world premiere of Alban Berg's Wozzeck in 1925, during a period of mounting financial chaos but artistic primacy in Europe, although his postwar repertory became more conservative.

He quit the Staatsoper in November 1934 when the Nazi government condemned his concert premiere of Berg's Lulu-Symphonie. He emigrated to Argentina in 1935, became a citizen four years later, and for 13 years was Latin America's far-and-away-foremost conductor. Toscanini invited him to conduct the NBC Symphony in 1945-46 (my first experience of his name and music-making), but he returned to Europe in '48 to guest-conduct in a variety of cities. In 1954 he resumed leadership of the Opera unter den Linden, by then in East Berlin, only to lock horns with Communist bureaucrats and to quit a year later. He made records for London with the Amsterdam Concertgebouw among other orchestras, and before his death on Mozart's birthday in 1956, two stereo operas with the Vienna Philharmonic: Le nozze di Figaro and Der Rosenkavalier. But as this CD demonstrates, he began recording in the first electronic decade, and not just for Telefunken, which was technologically on a par with the US'  and Britain's best.

These performances are always absorbing, indubitably charming in echt-Wienversions of Josef Lanner's Die Sch–nbrunner Waltz, Strauss Johann's Acceleration Waltz and Fledermaus Overture, and a hotch-potch arrangement (uncredited) of Strauss Richard's Rosenkavalier Waltzes. There is less poetry than one expected to find at the start of Nikolai's Overture to The Merry Wives of Windsor, but the main body is a lesson in Mendelssohnian finesse. So is the Donna Diana Overture of Reznicek, in whose coda Kleiber challenged the Berliners to match his tempo (which they only just did). Stravinsky's Fireworks was not quite a quarter of a century old when Kleiber recorded it in June 1934, and obviously not a repertory piece in the Philharmonie on Bernburger Strasse, destroyed by Allied bombs before Hitlersd”mmerung. It is in fact pretty scrappy, especially when listened to in the same week as reissue of  the Ozawa/Chicago version.

The Beethoven is clearly the interpretation of a Meister whose postwar symphonies for London/Decca remain catalog staples—not cataclysmic in the way that Reiner's was (unmatched on discs of any period) but suitably stern of visage, and mail-fisted. The oddities are Kleiber's Berlioz: a Cellini Overture that no doubt deliberately plays up accompaniment figurations while reining in thematic material. I've never heard anything like it, and wonder if the French, for example, would even recognize it. Nor could the Berlin Phil manage to sound idiomatic. The "Hungarian March" from Le Damnation de Faust is a Junker quickstep if you will, with no breathing time. Better it and Stravinsky had remained on the shelf at Telefunken.

Teldec uses the same cardboard packaging (sturdier, though) that Sony adopted for its Masterworks Heritage reissues, and has illustrated a well-written program insert handsomely.  The last recording here is the Rosenkavalier, made just two months before Kleiber quit the Staatsoper.

R.D.