Just up: Carlos Kleiber’s lost Beethoven 7th

Just up: Carlos Kleiber’s lost Beethoven 7th

News

norman lebrecht

August 09, 2022

An off-air recording has turned up of Carlos Kleiber conducting the London Symphony Orchestra at La Scala Milan in 1981.

This was Kleiber’s last encounter with a London orchestra. One bad review in (I think) the Guardian led to a boycott of London bands.

The recording is only partial.

Listen to it quickly before the LSO have it taken down.

Some of the phrasing and dynamics here are spectacular.

Comments

  • Player says:

    Norman (and everyone): these extracts were first broadcast in an Italian RAI documentary programme from 2008 called “The Smile of Music” produced by by Andrea Ottonello.

    As that programme mentions, the last movement (from 5:43) was provided to RAI by the Historical Archive of Teatro All Scala. So, since the concert in Italy was never broadcast (and never recorded for broadcast), the theatre must have captured it on its in-house system. Which means they must probably have it all.

    The earlier extracts played are most probably from his studio recording.

    The audience reaction at the end (different from all other known recordings) suggests the ecstatic reception received when they played this concert in Milan. A few days later, they repeated it in London, with the critical negativity you mention.

    He never conducted a concert in London again but did return to the ROH in 1987 and 1990 for Otello.

    Why was he conducting the LSO in the first place? He had agreed to step in to replace Karl Böhm, who was by then ailing.

    • Alexander Hall says:

      British critics are amongst the most partisan, unfair and self-righteous anywhere. They are very quick to build somebody up if they too are initially enthused, but then take a fiendish delight in pulling the same individual apart. Nobody would pretend that Sinopoli was the greatest conductor of his generation, but the universally hostile reception he received from UK critics was a deliberate attempt at character assassination. Paraphrasing one famous wit when he referred to the antics of theatre critics, they watch a performance every night, they know how it’s done but…..they can’t do it themselves.

      • Donna Pasquale says:

        Totally. Gegiev was much fawned over in the early days. Now its Klaus Makela and Mirga and so on.
        They rarely,if ever get outside London and are as opiniated as they are useless. I refer to the newspaper critics. Many of the online one such as Bachtrack are so much better.
        Will not tolerate Tim Ashley.

      • Tom Phillips says:

        I am also constantly amazed at their nationalistic chauvinism – particularly evident in such publications as Opera magazine (especially during the editorial reign of Harold Rosenthal). If you were to believe them the greatest Wagnerian conductor of all time was the ponderous Sir. Reginald Goodall – forget Solti or Furtwangler – while the genius that was Kleiber could probably never measure up to the likes of Alexander Gibson. Solti also received constant drubbings from British music critics during his ROH music directorship – would that we had such great interpreters around today.

      • soavemusica says:

        Why would Kleiber read reviews? And then take offence? And then refuse to perform?

        A man tormented by himself.

    • soavemusica says:

      If the LSO have it taken down, just publish it again without even mentioning the orchestra.

      Kleiber remains of interest.

  • M McAlpine says:

    One wonders whether this guy was actually sane. Does an artist expect everyone (especially critics who are known for their ignorance and negativity) to speak well of them? Why allow one cloth-eared clown to put you off your work as this guy did?

    • Charles Barber says:

      Carlos was, perhaps, more sane than most of us. He saw with a staggering clarity and imagination the name and nature of music. Virtually anyone who saw him work declares this. He had a genius, a Latin word that asserts “the individual instance of a general divine nature”. CK was also an Ecstatic, in the sense of William Blake and Emily Dickinson. But there was in him a startling vulnerability that some people have mistaken for madness. I saw it. Perhaps Oscar Levant should have the last word: “There is a fine line between madness and genius. I have erased that line.”

  • Jon says:

    It wasn’t just one review. With the exception of the Observer’s Peter Heyworth who said it was ‘one of the most marvellous concerts I ever heard’, almost all the other reviews were devastatingly hostile.

    The Daily Telegraph’s Robert Henderson called it ‘a disastrously unhappy affair’ adding that the concert was ‘bewildering in its coarseness and insensitivity.’

    The Guardian’s Edward Greenfield felt that ‘at no point with such aggressive exaggerations and idiosyncracies was it quite possible to dismiss the suspicion that here was a conductor determined at all costs to do things differently, to attract to himself rather than to the music.’

    Although he apparently remained in touch with the LSO and was said to be keen to conduct them again, Kleiber vowed never to conduct a concert in London ever again.

    He was as good as his word, and although he maintained a long and fruitful relationship with the Royal Opera House, he never conducted a concert here after that one appearance.

    A friend of mine was there and said it was one of the finest concerts he ever saw. At the end the audience were standing on their chairs cheering for Kleiber.

    • Chris says:

      I was there too, having booked for what I thought might be a last opportunity to hear and see Karl Böhm live, and by good chance sitting immediately behind the orchestra with a grandstand view of Kleiber. One of the greatest and most involving experiences of my musical life. As was his ROH Otello.

  • Z.B. says:

    The Guardian is a vicious newspaper. Carlos you are the greatest!

  • Player says:

    A bit more detail…

    As I say, these extracts were definitely played in an Italian RAI documentary programme from 2008 called “The Smile of Music” produced by Andrea Ottonello.

    For evidence of this, please see this transcript (in English translation) of the whole series of episodes at the link below.

    https://kleiber.blog.bg/muzika/2010/03/02/the-smile-of-music-a-portrait-of-carlos-kleiber-rai-3.502850

    Scroll down to Episode 10, where it mentions “This tenth and final episode is in fact dedicated entirely to Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. The official version of DGG, with Carlos Kleiber leading the Vienna Philharmonic, and a recording (made available by the Historical Archive of the Teatro alla Scala) that dates to 1982, with Carlos Kleiber leading the London Symphony Orchestra, will be compared…”

    I cannot find the programme itself still available, but I was sent the extracts played soon after, run together (as in the YT video). The last episode 10 basically consisted of extracts from the symphony, and each episode was only about 15 minutes long.

    So the last movement is all we have at the moment, from that Milan concert. It is enough to give a flavour of the excitement – but also what some critics objected to – i.e. too wild and fast.

    As Martin Kettle recalled in a Guardian article in 1990, about the subsequent ill-fated concrete in London:

    “Next morning came the reckoning. With the exception of the Observer’s Peter Heyworth who thought it ‘one of the most marvellous concerts I ever heard’, the reviews were devastatingly hostile. The Daily Telegraph’s Robert Henderson called it ‘a disastrously unhappy affair’ adding that the concert was ‘bewildering in its coarseness and insensitivity.’ The Guardian’s Edward Greenfield felt that ‘at no point with such aggressive exaggerations and idiosyncracies was it quite possible to dismiss the suspicion that here was a conductor determined at all costs to do things differently, to attract to himself rather than to the music.'”

    Your listeners can now judge…

  • yodi says:

    This is how Martin Kettle at the Guardian in 1990 summarized the 1981 affair:

    “In 1981, the London Symphony Orchestra’s ailing president, Karl Bohm, was forced to cancel a long awaited Festival Hall date. Kleiber was hastily contacted and agreed to deputise. The surge of public interest was enormous. When the concert took place, on June 9, 1981, the audience was studded with famous musicians and the atmosphere was electric. At the end of the programme of Weber’s Freischutz overture, Schubert’s third symphomy and Beethoven’s seventh, the reception was tumultuous.

    Next morning came the reckoning. With the exception of the Observer’s Peter Heyworth who thought it ‘one of the most marvellous concerts I ever heard’, the reviews were devastatingly hostile. The Daily Telegraph’s Robert Henderson called it ‘a disastrously unhappy affair’ adding that the concert was ‘bewildering in its coarseness and insensitivity.’ The Guardian’s Edward Greenfield felt that ‘at no point with such aggressive exaggerations and idiosyncracies was it quite possible to dismiss the suspicion that here was a conductor determined at all costs to do things differently, to attract to himself rather than to the music.’

    Kleiber was furious. He is said to have vowed never to conduct a London concert ever again. ‘It was desperately unfair and terribly stupid of the critics,’ recalls an LSO musician. Despite the reviews, the LSO remains in close touch with Kleiber and managing director Clive Gillingson believes ‘Carlos wants to work with the band again.’ But not in London, unfortunately.”

  • Dominic Stafford says:

    This later performance, with the Bayerische Staatsorchester, remians one of the great symphonic recordings: https://youtu.be/WxudiStK-iY .

  • MVC says:

    The phrasing and the dynamic refinement in the 2nd movement are absolutely beyond what seems possible to obtain from an orchestra, the same could be said about the tempo of the final movement, which demands to be pushed in this way to the extreme of the human faculties…

  • Rob says:

    It sounds like being sliced with glass

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Dream team: Carlos Kleiber conducting a piano concerto (any one of the good old ones) with Keith Jarret as soloist.

    • Antwerp Smerle says:

      My dream team would have been Kleiber and Sviatoslav Richter. Unfortunately, when they agreed to record together, the work chosen was Dvorak’s Concerto. If only they had chosen – say – one of Brahms’s concertos.

  • Shark says:

    British musicians/critics are brought up in the abrsm/TCL system and conservative Conservatoires. There you go, attention to detail, accuracy, posture, hands, technique, controlled dynamics and rubato, cadence, interpretation is a must. Why they forgive Lang Lang is a mystery. Anyway, it’s part of the reason that Brit painists don’t win comps, they’re boring. That and a lack of hours, resulting in technical prowess at klavier seen in pianists from other countries, and other instruments. Benedetti breaks the mould on this front but I still think she plays conservatively. Just my ears.

  • Margaret Koscielny says:

    Judging by the enthusiastic response from the audience, it would appear that the “critics” were mistaken. Trust the audience, especially, sophisticated ones as found in London.

  • Margaret Koscielny says:

    Correction: London and Milan!

  • sonicsinfonia says:

    I was at that concert. It was one of the most overwhelming of my life (alongside a couple of Bernstein’s, Klemperer’s last and Abbado’s Mahler 3 with the LFO). The Schubert, with Jack Brymer’s wonderful burbling clarinet, had everyone in the hall smiling in delight. The Beethoven was incendiary.

  • Enrique Sanchez says:

    I do believe I just witnessed a peak into HEAVEN – with this recording! I swiftly recorded it onto my PC for the glorious posterity of an astounding performance I won’t ever forget! ♥ Thank you, Norman!

  • YogaCat says:

    This acoustic does not sound like Scala

  • PGB VAN DELDEN says:

    In 1983 Kleiber conducted Beethoven7 in Amsterdam with the CG Orchestra. It was spectacular and one could hardly remain seated while the orchestra seemed to be on wings!! It was completely different from Giulini, Haitink, Jansons and Sawallisch to name a few I heard live in Amsterdam. Unfortunatly the excerpts on this website show that the LSO is not in the same division as the Amsterdam Orchestra. Might this also be a reason for the harsh critics?

  • Parker Moss says:

    This is truly wonderful. Do we know why this has not been commercially published? Quality is easily good enough and surely there would be commercial appetite for another Kleiber recording on the market.

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