Monday 29 October 2012

Carlos Kleiber's Beethoven 5th

Carlos Kleiber was by popular reckoning - and in particular in the opinion of his fellow conductors - the greatest conductor of the 20th Century.  All this despite a recorded oevre which remains quite stunningly limited.  Additionally, Kleiber's orchestral appointments were not those you would associate with a conductor of such repute, although he did turn down an offer to succeed Karajan as conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, considered by many the most prestigious appointment in the world.  This is often attributed to his reclusive, erratic, and uncompromising personality.  Perhaps also to an element of fear of failure, which some ascribe to his domineering father, Erich Kleiber, also a conductor of international repute.  Carlos apparently felt throughout his life that he was always striving to live up to his father's accomplishments.  However, few critics would not agree that he did in the end comfortably surpass his father's status and repute.

Kleiber's recorded magnum opus is undoubtedly his 1975 recording of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.   Kleiber absolutely kills the piece.  Nails it.  Dead.  There is absolutely no need for anybody to bother recording it again, although many, many will continue to do so.  Kleiber is the Reference Standard.

There is a 24/96 release on HD tracks, but it is not all that superior to the CD, nor to the original LP.  I have all three.  Part of this is DG's congested multi-miked recording practice of that era which produces a tonally accurate representation at the expense of a chaotic and confusing sound stage in which most of the instruments seem to be located more or less where they should be, but you just can't seem to focus cleanly on them.

All this is totally secondary to Kleiber's astonishing performance.  This is THE Beethoven's fifth, and it is going to totally, completely, blow you away.  Surely even Beethoven himself would agree.