Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Schubert, Klemperer, Philharmonia Orchestra ‎– Symphony No. 5 & 8

This is my post from this week's Tuesday Blog.

This week, I am planning a pair of posts featuring the pairing of Otto Klemperer and the Philharmonia Orchestra. Today’s Tuesday Blog is one of our Vinyl’s Revenge segments, highlighting a favoutite recording from my old vinyl collection.

The Orchestra

It is commonly thought that the Philharmonia Orchestra was primarily formed for recording purposes by Walter Legge, a recording producer for EMI - but that was not Legge's intention. He had been Sir Thomas Beecham's assistant at Covent Garden, before World War II, and, assuming that he and Beecham would be in charge there again after the war, Legge planned to establish a first-class orchestra for opera, concerts and recordings. As it turned out, opera resumed at Covent Garden after the war under a different management, yet Legge went ahead with his plans for a new orchestra.

Legge recruited musicians still serving in the armed forces in 1945 – in fact, at the Philharmonia's first concert on 25 October 1945, more than sixty per cent of the players were still officially in the services. Sit Thomas Beecham conducted the concer, and at first Legge was against appointing an official principal conductor, inviting prominent conductors instead: Arturo Toscanini, Richard Strauss and Wilhelm Furtwängler. Herbert von Karajan was closely associated with the Philharmonia in its early years, although he never held an official title with the orchestra, acting as its principal conductor in all but name.

In 1954, following the death of Furtwängler, Karajan was elected music director of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and subsequently curtailed his work with the Philharmonia. Needing to find a new conductor for the orchestra, Legge turned to Otto Klemperer, who was officially named Principal Conductor in 1959, a position he held through the restructuring of the orchestra in the early 1960’s (when it was known for a short time as the “New” Philharmonia) until his death. Together, they leave an impressive legacy of recordings, including the Beethoven symphonies, piano concertos and Fidelio, Mozart and Wagner operas, and symphonies by the great composers including Mahler, Mozart, Schubert, Brahms, Bruckner and Schumann.

The two works

Schubert would be especially amazed to learn that he has come to be regarded as a great symphonist. Of all the genres in which he excelled, these fared the worst during his life. His first two were written for his school orchestra and the next four for an amateur group he was able to assemble, all intended to be heard once and then forever forgotten. Written in his teens, they gleam with dewy innocence, reminiscent of Mozart's juvenilia, with only the barest hint of an incursion of strife. Among his most enduring from that period we can single out the Fifth, a buoyant package of joy.

The most infamous of Schubert's Symphonies, his Eighth, known as the “Unfinished” has a peculiar history. In 1823, Schubert gave the manuscript to the president of a Granz music society, who never bothered to deliver it to his members but instead kept it for himself for over forty years. Schubert, typically, forgot it.

What exactly is unfinished about it? Some will quickly point out the absence of a scherzo/dance movement and the triumphant finale that usually form the latter half of a Classical Symphony. Commentators have been quite poetic describing the splendor of the two movements Schubert completed. The late conductor Guiseppi Sinopoli regarded the work as a deeply mystical dream-state of tragedy and lost memories.

Apparently, Schubert left extensive sketches for a third movement and even had begun to orchestrate it. Why did Schubert stop? Speculation abounds. Some claim that he probably did finish the work but, typical of his haphazard ways, lost the second half. Others believe that he may have reworked the remainder into other pieces. But perhaps the most likely explanation, albeit the most prosaic, is that he simply lost interest. Had Schubert lived to a ripe old age when his phenomenal inspiration flagged he might have gone back to develop ideas and fragments of the past.

In any event, the two movements of the “Unfinished” exert a powerful spell. Why harp over what might have been; acting as a bridge between the Classical and the Romantic, maybe these two movements provide a finished product in itself – his masterpiece Ninth, judged unplayable for generations, serves as a fitting template of the great romantic symphonies to come… some 60 or 70 years later.


Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony No. 5 In B Flat Major, D.485
Symphony No. 8 In B Minor, D.759

Philharmonia Orchestra
Otto Klemperer, conducting
Studio Recording, 1963-64
Angel Records ‎– RL-32038
Format: Vinyl, LP, Album

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