Kleiber: Complete Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon | Classical CD review

Prey/Varady/Cotrubas/ Domingo/Kollo/Price/Schreier/Janowitz/ Vienna PO/Bavarian State Opera/ Dresden Staatskapelle/Kleiber
(Deutsche Grammophon, 12 CDs)

Though he conducted less and less frequently in the decade before he died in 2004, Carlos Kleiber's reputation as one of the greatest 20th-century conductors has remained utterly secure. Kleiber would have been 80 this month, and to mark the anniversary Deutsche Grammophon has brought together all the recordings he made for the company, in a single set. Since his death a few live recordings have appeared, but Kleiber was a notoriously exacting artist, who remained deeply suspicious of the whole recording process, and his studio career was a relatively brief one – lasting from 1973 (Weber's Der Freischütz, with Peter Schreier and Julia Varady) to 1982 (when Tristan und Isolde, with René Kollo and Margaret Price, was eventually completed).

The set includes four operas altogether – as well as the Weber and Wagner there is Johann Strauss's Die Fledermaus (with Hermann Prey, Julia Varady and Lucia Popp) from 1975 and Verdi's La Traviata with Ileana Cotrubas and Plácido Domingo from two years later. If the Traviata is a touch strait-laced, and the Fledermaus rather outshone by Kleiber's live Munich performance available on DVD, the Tristan contains some remarkable things (though those don't include Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's performance as Kurwenal), while the tingling theatricality of the Freischütz has never been bettered on disc.

There are three discs of symphonies here, too, which together with a recording of Dvorák's Piano Concerto that Kleiber made for EMI with Sviatoslav Richter in 1976 make up the sum total of his studio recordings of orchestral repertoire. Even after more than 30 years the two Beethoven performances, of the Fifth and Seventh Symphonies, seem as fresh and energised as they ever did, while Brahms's Fourth Symphony, full of detail and with an extraordinary sense of architectural logic, has not been surpassed since. The Schubert coupling is more controversial, especially the breathless account of the Third Symphony, but like everything Kleiber conducted, it has a sense of specialness about it. This is an extraordinary collection of performances.


Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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