20th Century Music

by Steven Bergman
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday May 14, 2013
20th Century Music

This set from EMI Classics, titled "20th Century Music" features several notable performances by the great conductor Otto Klemperer (1885 - 1973). It is one of twelve box sets that are being released in tribute to Klemperer's tremendous body of work. This compilation is even more impressive given the extreme and tumultuous physical and emotional adversity that marked Klemperer's famed career.

Upon receiving a letter of recommendation from Gustav Mahler, the young Klemperer's future seemed secure as he would soon be able to bring his innovative programming to his capacity as the director of Berlin's Kroll Opera from 1927 to 1933. This period solidified the maestro's passion and advocacy for the music of Igor Stravinsky, Paul Hindemith and Kurt Weill, who are all represented on this 4-CD set.

After emigrating to America to avoid the Nazis, Klemperer returned to Europe in 1946, where his physical maladies, including the removal of a benign brain tumor and his diagnosis as bipolar, garnered him a reputation as difficult, bordering on abusive, until record producer Walter Legge took a chance and brought Klemperer in to lead the Philharmonia Orchestra. The gamble paid off, and the conductor and orchestra maintained a harmonious twenty-year relationship, which featured the performances contained here.

Works include Stravinsky's "Symphony in Three Movements" (recorded in 1962) and "Pulcinella Suite" (1964), Hindemith's "Nobilissima visione - Suite" (1954), selections from Humperdinck's "Hansel and Gretel" (with whom Klemperer had studied early in his career), and a disk of his own compositions. Additionally, there is an hour-long audio documentary chronicling Klemperer's career through interviews with the conductor himself along with musicians who personally experienced the grand personality (at both its highest and lowest moments) of the noted maestro.

Though it is of interest to hear some of Klemperer's original work on this recording, including his "Symphony No.2" (under the composer's own baton), the highlights of this recording are the Stravinsky and the Hindemith pieces, which firmly display the attention to detail and the passion that Klemperer brought to the compositions of these two famous composers.

"20th Century Music"
Otto Klemperer / Philharmonia Orchestra
CD and digital formats
EMI Classics

Steven Bergman is a Composer / Playwright / Performing Arts Educator based outside of Boston, MA.


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