Otto Klemperer / WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln

Bruckner: Symphony No. 4; Strauss: Don Juan

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Although both of these Klemperer recordings have been kicking around the fringes of the catalog for half a century, anyone who loves Iron Otto and has never heard these should check them out. Although Klemperer later recorded both works with the Philharmonia, and although both those studio recordings have far better sound than these live recordings, these performances have it all over the later performances in terms of excitement, intensity, and profundity. The Bruckner Fourth here was recorded in April 1954 at a point when Klemperer's career had reached its nadir. Unloved in America where he was viewed as a Communist sympathizer for his work after the war in Hungary and unwanted in Europe where he was viewed as a physically and psychically broken man, the giant German scrounged up a gig with the Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester in February 1954 -- and blew away everyone who heard it.

Re-engaged immediately, Klemperer returned in April, and with the awe-struck cooperation of the Cologne players, turned in a performance of Bruckner's Fourth that, as one contemporary critic wrote, "got absolutely everything exactly right." Absolutely everything: the range, the scope, the depth, the spirituality, and the sheer inevitability of Bruckner at his best is everywhere made manifest. And just as superlative but in a completely different way is Klemperer and the KRSO's February 1956 recording of Strauss' Don Juan. The enthusiasm, the energy, the color, the drama, and above all the sensuality of Strauss at his youthful best is likewise everywhere -- and we recall that in his own amorous youth as an opera conductor in Berlin, Klemperer had carried on multiple affairs with numerous blonde sopranos and had even pursued one into a nunnery. Thus, though the sound is obviously antique -- what other kind of sound could live radio broadcasts from the mid-'50s have? -- these performances are of far more than historical interest to Klemperer's fans: they are testaments to the conductor's indefatigable and undeniable musical magnificence.

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