A lost Carlos Kleiber track has turned up

A lost Carlos Kleiber track has turned up


norman lebrecht

May 31, 2022

He’s conducting the Schumann piano concerto at the Prague Spring in 1968… with Christoph Eschenbach as soloist.



  • Luk Vaes says:

    Eschenbach is very interesting. The orchestra and Kleiber are not performing in any extraordinary way.

    • Herbert Pauls says:

      E is superb and the real story here for me. I have paid very little attention to his early piano recordings, I must confess. I mostly read the negative press about him on Slipped Disc and thus have that impression of him. Here, however, we have exceptional beauty of tone, risk taking, and tempo manipulations that really create and release tension. Kleiber also helps in creating the high points, not least just before the cadenza, and reminds me a little of his orchestral contribution to Richter’s Dvorak Concerto

      • Petros Linardos says:

        The morale of the story: choose your sources of information very carefully.

      • Rudy says:

        It is not too late to ask him about this performance…same with Brendel, who once mentioned that the rehearsals were difficult because Kleiber wanted to do it HIS way !!

  • David Derrick says:

    Is it me or is Kleiber worship out of hand? Of course he was a great conductor, but one is only allowed to worship. Compare his Brahms 4 with Karajan’s first Brahms 4, with the Philharmonia. I prefer the more virile Karajan!

    • Tracy says:

      Don’t think so; although cult followings of any kind can get annoying after a while.
      One way I found to think about Kleiber is that he is like Bach– not that Bach was ‘the greatest, but there is a kind of perfection in most of his music that doesn’t exist in other composers.

      I hear your point about Karajan, in that some of his recordings are comparable if not arguably better (Brahms 4, Beethoven 6th), but there is a “Kleiber Magic” that one can see/hear in his recording of Beethoven 7th that sets him apart from others IMO.


      • Clyde Jennings says:

        For me his Beethoven 7th is so-so. But his interpretation of the 5th is extraordinary, from the fermata in the opening bars, through the extraordinary tension he maintains throughout, to the drive of the fourth moment.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      I find Kleiber’s symphonic recordings of extremely high caliber, but not necessarily second to none. I could say that also of the Schumann concerto I just sampled.

      The best of Kleiber was at the opera pit, I think. I joined the cult with all my youthful fanaticism after hearing him live in La Boheme, in Vienna, 1985. I kept thinking I should keep in my memory what I heard, because I never hear its like again. Even Pavarotti from the stage kept pointing at the podium when acknowledging the applause. I think I hear some of that Kleiber magic in the Scala 1978 Boheme, that’s easy to find on youtube:

      I am still dreaming of the day when that performance will receive a release in good sound on CD or DVD. My hopes, however, are fading with every passing year.

      I also find the Vienna 1978 Carmen out of this world.

      The icing on the cake for both above productions are the gorgeous Zeffirelli sets and direction.

      • Tristan says:

        no doubt he was the most exciting conductor around and not only all singers would tell you (Domingo, Freni, Cotrubas, Gwyneth Jones, Fassbaender, Pavarotti…) but also great Maestri like Karajan and Muti…
        Just think of all all the mediocrity today like the ones of p.e. Barenboim, Rattle etc – just so borinf
        ONLY Kiril Petrenko nowadays comes close to Kleiber, but only close….
        If you talk to musicians of various orchestras who played with Kleiber, they all would say the same.
        Kleiber is matchless and Michael Gielen once has righly said in a documentary ‘if the term genius would be suitable describing a conductor (unlike a composer) it would only suit Carlos Kleiber’
        The little he has done is matchless, any of his recordings and life recordings set benchmarks.
        Never ever surpassed and just sit down and listen carefully….

        • Achim Mentzel says:

          Just want to make sure we are talking about the same Kirill Petrenko. That is, the guy whose conducting movements are stiff and choppy without any sense of agogic and noblesse, who has almost no independence of hands, whose face expressions look mostly gnomic and who can’t conduct four bars without his eyes glued to the score. So yes, pretty much close to Carlos Kleiber.

          • Petros Linardos says:

            I suppose by those standards this guy was a failure:

          • music lover says:

            Indeed a terrible performance.

          • music lover says:

            The lament of the East German goners.Achim,stick to your music…(Spreewaldgurken).

          • music lover says:

            Having played many times under Kirill P.,i can only say his rehearsals and performances were the greatest highlights in 43 years as a professional musician.Yes,his rehearsals can be exhausting in his neverending quest for textural clarity and attention to detail(although he is always polite..)…But the feeling of satisfaction and happiness for us players is endless…And the results are phenomenal,for those who listen the same way he works,with meticulous attention to detail…Of course I don´t have the insight and wisdom of some armchair conductors specializing in eastern german entertainment.

          • Achim Mentzel says:

            Okay, calm down grandpa. Save your energy for a few more gigs behind your desk in the back row.

          • music lover says:

            Still better than being a non musician making clueless comments from his computer hiding behind a ridiculous pseudonym.And better paid….

          • Clyde Jennings says:

            He seemed to have the experience to support his comments, taking him at face value. You ignored that, seemingly, and went straight to semi-insulting condescension. Does this happen only online, or do you have the spine to do it in person? If so, I am sure you have many friends.

          • Tamino says:

            …but both liked to overprepare the orchestra in rehearsals, avoiding any risk on the evening. Ironically, nobody could make it look like total freedom than CK could. KP on the other shows the overcontrol paranoia.

        • music lover says:

          Why do people always feel the urge to make comparisons,instead of letting stand artists for themselves,and enjoy each for his own? Firstly,music,and arts in general,are no sport events,where sucess can be determined by simple units of measurements…In arts,there is no”the best”,never…Everyone indulging in such ridiculous superlatives shows no understanding of art at all..In most cases those comparisons are purely speculative,don´t stand up to serious facts.Never more than in Kleiber´s case.Comparing him to every other conductor(in this case,Petrenko) is like comparing,let´s say , Jimmy Dean to Paul Newman.
          There is almost no common ground to compare…
          Was Kleiber´s Mahler greater than Bernstein´s,his Ring better than Solti´s,his Sibelius better than Salonen´s,his Debussy better than Dutoit´s,his Schönberg better than Boulez´s,his Tchaikovsky better than Gergiev´s …..and so on?Of course there is no answer,because Kleiber did only 5% of the music other conductors do.Same as Jimmy Dean did only 3 movies against Paul Newman´s 80 or so.
          If the comparison is meant to be fair(which it should be,to bear any relevance),you should compare the 15 or 20 pieces he did and which are preserved for eternity,to the performances of of these pieces others did.If you prefer his Beethoven 5 or 7,his Schubert 3 and 8,and the other works he did ,to all others,so be it.It´s a moot point(i don´t,..i find his Brahms 4 and his Schubert 3 and 8 absolutely fussy.I love his Beethoven,and since i prefer absolute music to opera,especially Puccini,whom i can´t stand,there isn´t much left for me.).
          For me,curiosity is a vital element of arts,especially music,and Kleiber lamentably lacked it,repeating the same 15 pieces over and over again,because,in in his own admission,he had no interest to learn and explore new things…That´s a kind of artist i personally find not interesting at all.Kirill Petrenko,in contrast ,is extremly curios and constantly explores fascinating neglected repertoire and fascinating novelties.
          Kleiber´s output does cover almost nothing in music which interests me.I am looking for new things costantly,for as much variety as possible.
          Kleiber was very much the Jimmy Dean among conductors.Their reputation stands very much on what they could have done,both became enigmatic,charismatic,self stylished icons with an eccentric and mysterious flair around them.The main ingredient for a cult following.
          If you strip down the myths to facts,there´s not much left other than romantic glorification.

          • Clyde Jennings says:

            I really liked the points you made. I read comments to see if there’s anything interesting that I didn’t know or hadn’t thought of. Very often, there is. But you have to wade through a lot of poseurs and snarks to find the good stuff. Thanks for taking this one down a peg while also making good points.

            BTW: James Dean or Jimmy Dean (the country singer turned sausage mogul)? Both dead, but Jimmy lives on in your breakfast meat grocery aisle.

        • Clyde says:

          My sister was a vocal coach until she retired. One night we were having dinner at her house with some regionally famous opera singers. To a person they complained about von Karajan’s tempi in La Boheme, wondering how the singers didn’t faint from lack of oxygen especially in the third act.

      • John Kelly says:

        I concur with your assessment, he was at his absolute best in opera. I heard him at the Met 4 times (Boheme, Traviata, Otello and Rosenkavalier). Nothing to touch these performances before or since. Quite extraordinary. One cellist with over 30 years in the orchestra told me “unquestionably the greatest conductor we ever played with.” The Boheme with Pav and Freni (both past their “primes”) was truly wonderful. As usual in his Bohemes the second Act was at breakneck speed and the Met chorus pretty much kept up!

    • Vanessa says:

      To me, the Kleiber version is far better (but of course these things are objective and personal to a degree)

      The piece isn’t about being viral, and im sure you understand that—you just prefer the Karajan (which I enjoy too).

  • Joel Kemelhor says:

    Those who enjoy vintage recordings should hear Dinu Lipatti’s performances of the Schumann piano concerto.

    According to Lipatti’s wife Madeleine, he thought this work “was the most beautiful, both in content and form” — and his playing demonstrates that belief.

  • Carl Cook says:

    I would not recommend this recording over any of Richter’s truly great definitive interpretations of Schumann’s piano concerto.

  • Hilary DW says:

    Well, the opening is not actually together, is it? Of course you don’t judge a conductor by one moment, but I always thought Kleiber was not a great accompanist.

  • Mathias Broucek says:

    Gave some truly exceptional performances (perhaps not this one)but “great”? Didn’t run a major orchestra or opera house, didn’t make a big educational impact, didn’t do much for new music, didn’t have a wider social impact (think Erich) usw

    • Acb says:

      Carlos Kleiber was a conductor, not a social worker.

    • Charles Barber says:

      You are correct: CK neither achieved nor attempted any of those ‘extra-curricular’ activities, though all were offered him. He had no such ambitions. They were of zero interest, I believe.

      Perhaps we should consider him this way. He was a unique and dazzling meteor who moved into our orbit for a few years, gave performances unlike any other, and then departed. That’s it. That’s all.

      We have reasons for enduring gratitude that he gave us anything. What he ‘might’ have done is of lesser consequence, perhaps. Just a thought. Thanks.

      • Yizhar Degani says:

        Well said !

      • Petros LInardos says:

        Mr. Barber, you of all people can imagine what difference Carlos Kleiber could have made if he worked with youth orchestras the way Abbado did. Do you have any insight why he didn’t pursue that line of work?

        • Charles Barber says:

          A couple of reasons come to mind, though we never discussed the matter. 1) in his peripatetic youth, he never had a chance to play in (and experience the joys of) a youth orchestra the way most of us did, and so its value might not have registered with him; and 2), one requires the patience of an Abbado or a Dudhamel to work at a high level with kids. CK did not always have such patience.

          In 1997, at the wish of his wife, CK did attend and address the Zagorje Music Youth Wind Orchestra in Slovenia. And that seems to have been it.

          I understand your frustration. I tried to persuade him to do a Ninth, a Grimes, or the Brahms Requiem, and offered cookies. A dozen, as I recall. He replied with a joke, of course.

          We were lucky to have him at all.

    • pjl says:

      The DVDs of his rehearsals give a real sense of his charismatic genius. But I was amused by an interview with Harnoncourt about conductors he played under as a cellist and he referred to Erich Kleiber as ‘the real Kleiber’!!

  • Milena Zlatarova says:

    Very interesting recording, thank you for posting it! Actuallly, the orchestra`s playing is mediocre. Key moments are amusingly not together with the soloist – totally conductor`s responsibility. Kleiber tended to have a full control over the performance, so perhaps accompaniment just was not his cup of tea. Eshenbach`s interpretation is youthful, fresh, a bit rushed sometimes but there are lyrical moments of pure beauty. Overall, the recording is an intriguing, raw document – a real thing, nothing to do with contemporary hyper-edited “live” recordings.

    Here are links to the 2nd (https://bit.ly/3m1f7cR) and 3rd movements (https://bit.ly/3M2fizh)

  • music lover says:

    Extraordinary? Rather not. The ponderous opening with piano and orchestra totally out of sync bodes ill. What comes after is OK, but not much more. If it hadn’t the label “Kleiber” on it, it would go rather unnoticed. There are tons of more interesting performances of this much loved concerto.
    Two weeks ago i attended a really memorable performance by Beatrice Rana and the BRSO under Yannick Nezet Seguin The three most memorable performances among the many i heard live were Rana/YNZ, Arrau /Sir Colin Davis, and Pires /Gardiner.

    • JohnB says:

      I attended one of the tour concerts of the BRSO under Yannick Nézet-Séguin with Beatrice Rana as soloist in the Schumann Piano Concerto and it was boring as hell. Definitely not memorable.

      • music lover says:

        For those who seek cheap thrills,yes.You are definitely in a minority position here.Rave reviews,and the musicians of the BRSO unanimously praised the experience.rana is the real think.A real thinking musician of astonishing maturity.With matchless technique.A combination Argerich´s technique and Arrau´s seriosity.A blessing after all the Khatias,Yujas,and Lang Langs

  • E.R. says:

    Thanks to all who contributed historical references and information. Always makes my day. Unusual speed, especially towards the end, and much
    delicacy. Molto interessante.

  • music lover says:

    I can´t judge a conductor who did perform only about two % of the repertoire.No Haydn,no French rep(except Carmen),no Russian(except one Borodin symphony) or Scandinavian rep,no Bruckner,almost no
    Mahler,no British music(except one petitesse by Butterworth),nothing American , no impressionissm,absolutely nothing after Richard Strauss(except Wozzeck),almost no solo concertos,no oratorios.and so on…. With his talent,charisma,and determination,it is quite easy to build a cult reputation by repeating the same 12 pieces over and over again with the same top orchestras and endless rehearsal time..He was incredibly smart in building a cult around himself.Conducting as rarely as possible,adding eccentric behaviour,being absolutely unreliable and cancelling at random…by his own admission he was lazy and did want to spend his time on other things.
    I met quite a few musicians who had played under him in Stuttgart opera.While all admitted his phenomenal talent and artistry,even at the beginning of his career,…there were many problems.He always conducted from memory,and this created many critical situations in performances.There was an infamous Tristan performance which collapsed twice,because he got lost or couldn´t fix something…And many stories about trying to force out female singers from productions in favour of his current mistresses….
    The tragedy is that he could have added so many valuable musical insights to the repertoire he didn´t do.
    All in all,15 pieces are simply not enough to pass a judgement on a musician.On any musician.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Reportedly Kleiber’s repertoire was far wider in the 50s and 60s.

      • music lover says:

        Not much.A few operettas,and operas he had to conduct because of his contract with Stuttgart Opera.And very few orchestra pieces too.

    • M. says:

      Well, endless rehearsals and performances of the same works aren’t everything: he conducted Beethoven’s 6th one single time, and the crappily-preserved radio broadcast is the disc I would take to the proverbial desert island.
      (Also, he did conduct Haydn: the 94th.)

  • Tamino says:

    Kleiber would not have approved that release.

  • Rudy says:

    According to his Japanese fan web (who listed all his concerts) Kleiber thought of this one as a failure. Dvorak Overture, Schumann and Beethoven 7. Same reported by A Stassinopoulos.
    Interesting fact: Eschenbach never mentioned Kleiber in his biographic data for concerts when he mentioned the conductors he had performed with.

  • Rudy says:

    I hope that one day his Brendel/Beethoven 4 and his Michelangeli Beethoven 5 will appear in CD. As well as his Tod und Verklarung…
    Impossible dream ??

  • zugzwang says:

    Very dull. Overly forward piano balance, lumpy piano playing with no particular illumination, or ideas to hold it together. Orchestra and soloist out of synch many times. Tempi all over the shop. That said, Kleiber in the opera pit was a magician like no other.