Brahms/Schubert/Wagner: Symphonies, etc./Kleiber April Fool

Review by: Victor Carr Jr

Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

Deutsche Grammophon’s Carlos Kleiber tribute winningly pairs two of the late conductor’s finest performances. The Schubert is unique for its classical drive, contour, and phrasing, associating the work more with late Beethoven than (as some conductors are wont to do) with Bruckner. Rarely has the first movement been done with such dramatic sweep in the more turbulent passages, while the Vienna strings adorn the lyrical second subject with a beguiling sweet tone. This is an Unfinished that even jaded listeners will hear with fresh ears.

The Brahms Fourth contains many similar virtues as Kleiber washes away a century of accumulated interpretive debris, leaving Brahms’ brilliance to boldly sound forth on its own. Kleiber’s vital and stirring yet immaculately transparent conducting, along with the Vienna Philharmonic’s highly alert and virtuosic playing, make this one of the finest versions ever recorded. DG captures both works in vivid, high-impact sound.

Kleiber’s Tristan und Isolde is not so much of a sure bet, especially as the current excerpt (Act 3 immediately after Tristan’s death) opens with the recording’s main weakness, namely Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s barking, over-the-hill Kurwenal. Happily he’s soon killed off, and we get to enjoy Margaret Price’s radiant Isolde in the closing pages. Underneath it all Kleiber leads the Dresden Staatskapelle in a passionate yet classically disciplined accompaniment. The sound has slightly less clarity than the Vienna recordings. Still and all, this disc is a must-have for the Schubert, and especially for the Brahms. If you haven’t heard it, prepare to be enthralled.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Schubert: This one, Harnoncourt (Teldec), Brahms: This one

FRANZ SCHUBERT - Symphony No. 8 "Unfinished"
JOHANNES BRAHMS - Symphony No. 4
RICHARD WAGNER - Tristan und Isolde: Act 3 scene 3

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