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 Recording of the Week  Carlos Kleiber

I’ve been looking forward to writing an editorial on the legendary conductor Carlos Kleiber for many years, and finally the combination of what would have been his eightieth birthday and the appearance of two limited edition boxed sets of his complete recordings on Deutsche Grammophon has given me the perfect opportunity.

Carlos Kleiber
Carlos Kleiber

Carlos Kleiber's life and career was something of an enigma. He started off building a conducting career like most other conductors but as he got more and more well known he conducted less and less. He started cancelling more performances than he gave and declined more work than he accepted. The strange thing was that every time he cancelled a performance his reputation increased. Even at the height of his activity (in the mid 1970s), he limited his repertoire to about eight operas and two dozen symphonies. And from then until his death in 2004 the performances became more and more sporadic and the range of repertoire decreased further. Apart from a brief spell at Stuttgart Opera in the 1960s he never accepted a Principal Conductor position and even declined the invitation to succeed Karajan in Berlin in 1989. He left very few official recordings and refused to sanction the release of many others.

It is certainly true that this very limited activity helped give rise to the almost cult following his name still commands, but equally for someone to have achieved the international acclaim and worldwide adulation which he did from such a limited repertoire and career means that there must have been something very special about him. And, through the existence of the small number of recordings he did make, we have lasting evidence of his genius.

His limited repertoire resulted in a meticulous approach to the scores he conducted. He had his own sets of highly detailed orchestral parts, which enabled him to use his rehearsal time to maximum effect. The results are remarkable - he makes even the most familiar works (such as Beethoven’s Fifth) sound new and fresh and, despite all the preparation, they display a spontaneity and inspired approach to the music which leaves rival recordings trailing a long way behind. He had a clear, elegant and descriptive baton technique and by all accounts musicians and singers loved working for him.

We’ve secured special prices on both the new limited edition boxed sets and for what they contain they are both absolute bargains. The 12-disc CD set comprises three discs of orchestral works by Beethoven (Symphonies Nos. 5 and 7), Brahms (Symphony No. 4) and Schubert (Symphonies Nos. 3 and 8) and his four complete opera recordings (Der Freischütz, Die Fledermaus, La Traviata and Tristan und Isolde). The DVD set comprises his orchestral concerts of Beethoven (Symphonies Nos. 4 and 7), Brahms (Symphonies Nos. 2 and 4) and Mozart (Symphonies Nos. 33 and 36), two New Year’s Concerts (1989 and 1992), two productions of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier and Johann Strauss II’s Die Fledermaus. A lot of these are classic recordings, many of them widely acknowledged as the finest on record, and there is so much enjoyment contained within - from the exciting Beethoven symphonies, to the wonderfully crafted Brahms 4, to the beautiful and youthful sounding Isolde of Margaret Price - I really can’t recommend these highly enough.

Carlos Kleiber - Complete Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon

80th Anniversary Limited Edition.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC