"This recording of Petrushka dates from the spring of 1967. Klemperer was 81, not in the best of health, but in his hyperactive phases, of which this was one, still capable of conjuring great music-making. In February that year he recorded Mahler's Ninth: one of the great Mahler Ninths on record. This was followed by a strangely lively account of Bruckner's Fifth, an LP comprising Mozart's C major Piano Concerto, K503 (with Barenboim as soloist) , and the C minor Serenade, K388, and - a bolt from the blue - Petrushka.
The cue for his Petrushka project was the indisposition of Paul Kletzki which left the New Philharmonia without a conductor for its next London concert. It was the orchestra's artistic adviser, Lord Harewood, who then charmed Klemperer into taking over the engagement, which he agreed to on condition that Petrushka be included in the programme.
Klemperer and Petrushka went back a long way. He first conducted it in the theatre as part of a double-bill in Cologne in May 1922 on the occasion of the world premiere of Zemlinsky's opera Der Zwerg. Richard Strauss was there to hear Der Zwerg but went away marvelling at Petrushka. Five years later, it was the turn of Hindemith and Schoenberg to be bowled over when Klemperer conducted Petrushka as part of a choreographically disappointing but musically thrilling triple-bill at the Kroll Opera in Berlin. He also conducted it in concert: in Los Angeles.
Klemperer never disguised the fact, either as a young man or as a very old one, that he found Stravinsky difficult to conduct. But where The rite barely interested him, Petrushka clearly held him in thrall. The psychopathology of Petrushka - the lonely sexually driven grotesque, fascinated by an etiolated ballerina and brutalized by his rival, the fatuous blackamoor, all three the vulnerable creations of a dispassionate, all-powerful puppet-master - was sufficiently close to Klemperer's own sense of himself and the world to be of more than casual interest.
Unsurprisingly, his reading is both momentous and unusual, light years away from those glitzy, virtuosic readings (Dorati's admired Minneapolis recording a representative example) which place Petrushka, emotionally and intellectually, somewhere between Rimsky-Korsakov and the witty cartoon cruelties of Scott Bradley's music for Tom and Jerry.
For this 1967 recording, EMI stayed put in Abbey Road, treating the music to another of those big, open, slightly bludgeoning recordings which it and Klemperer in his last years tended to favour. The opening minutes of the performance, the morning bustle of the Shrovetide Fair, have no special merit. The performance is high on decibels, relatively low on graphic (let alone choreographic) allure. With the entry of the Charlatan puppeteer, however, the true drama gets underway: announced by a stentorian sff burp low on the double bassoon (6'09'') and a flute cadenza charged with pathos and tragic foreboding.
Typically, Klemperer takes the first puppet dance, the 'Danse russe', at a tempo that observes the score's written marking (Allegro giusto) while ignoring the metronome mark. Compare this with Stravinsky's own recording, and the composer's version is clearly superior in Russianness and danceability. But Klemperer is never flat-footed. As Lord Harewood puts it in his autobiography, The Tongs and the Bones (Weidenfeld & Nicolson: 1981), Klemperer's slow tempos were rarely soggy because of the 'spring and elasticity that he somehow gave the accompaniment'.
The two scenes that follow - Petrushka in his cell and the blackamoor scene - stand at the very heart of the drama and are superbly characterized by Klemperer and his players: terrifying, bleak, desperately sad. The savagery of the trombone and trumpet outbursts (shades of strangely similar outbursts in the first movement of Mahler's Third) are genuinely shocking and there is a further Mahlerian echo in Klemperer's characterization of the ballerina's cornet tune, and the waltz (cornet, flutes, bassoon) which follows it: gawky, sad and utterly devoid of feeling.
In the final tableau, the shrovetide fair at nightfall, the EMI recording comes fully into its own. Klemperer's weighty characterization of these final episodes - the coachmen's dance, the entrance of the bear, the revels of the masqueraders - gives the music a Mussorgskian dimension and, with it, a terrible sense of imminent nemesis.
Why, then, was the performance never issued? The sessions, it seems, were not easy. In such circumstances producers and technicians often end up missing the wood because of the tangle of fallen trees. In this case, a decision was taken - wrongly, it now seems - to put together a master mainly made up of takes from the marginally less troublesome but musically tired final session. It was an easy way out but it pleased no one, and EMI withheld the recording. Klemperer was not convinced, but when he was later presented with the 'evidence' - not the session tapes but the producer's final edit - he agreed that it wasn't worth issuing.
This is itself a story riven with pathos. Deep down, Klemperer knew - or thought he knew - that the thing had worked. But it was not until Paul Baily and Stewart Brown came to review the tapes 30 years later that it became clear that the earlier takes did indeed contain a fascinating performance waiting to be edited into shape. The original production team thought otherwise. Now, like the apparition of Petrushka's double in the ballet's final tableau, this strange and wonderful thing returns, transformed, to haunt the survivors.
No such problems afflicted the fill-up, the 1963 Philharmonia recording of the Pulcinella Suite, one of the young Klemperer's favourite jeux d'esprit. Produced by Walter Legge, it was released in 1965 on a disc that included Klemperer's fine account of the Symphony in Three Movements. It is vividly played (the Vivo for trombone and double-bass is outrageously grand) , but by 1963 Klemperer's reading had become not so much neo-classical as neo-Gothic in character, dauntingly anachronistic." - Richard Osborne, Gramophone
- 180g Vinyl
- Previously unpublished recording
- First release on LP
- Recorded March 28, 30 & 31, 1967, No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London
|New Philharmonia Orchestra|
Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)
Petrushka: 1947 Version
- First Tableau - The Shrovetide Fair
- Second Tableau - Petrushka's Room
- Third Tableau - The Moor's Room
- Fourth Tableau - The Shrovetide Fair (Evening)