Many years ago a member of the Vienna Philharmonic was asked how he rated certain celebrated conductors. He is said to have valued Bruno Walter at £500 a concert, Weingartner at £200, and a certain hapless Herr X at £50. Values have inflated since then, but using the old yardstick I would confidently guess that Carlos Kleiber is already in the £500 class, so memorably does the orchestra play for him.
For this is one of the most glorious accounts of the Fifth Symphony I have ever had the pleasure of hearing; a version which is already vying in my affections with Klemperer’s memorable Philharmonia recording of 1956 and Karajan’s enduringly splendid 1963 Berlin version.
As a reading it is glorious on several counts. The orchestral playing is rich and glowing, catching in full measure the music’s inborn splendour; yet it is a reading which is at all points superbly articulated and dynamically acute. The first movement is taken quickly. The tempo is as quick as Karajan’s and almost as quick as Erich Kleiber’s (Carlos’s father) on his fine old Concertgebouw recording.
Yet there is a tension and an elegance about the playing, matched with this masterly sweep of rhythm and tone, which gives one the clear feeling of the music being born anew. (‘Klemperer treats the work as if he had just discovered its, greatness’ is how the Record Guide characterised Klemperer’s early Vox, recordingand one could equally apply the dictum to Carlos Kleiber.) And this is surely the crucial factor, the real touchstone of the performance’s greatness.