Today's Classical Music Video

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Carlos Kleiber Conducts Beethoven's Seventh Symphony


In the April, 2011 issue of BBC Music you will find an article titled "The Twenty Greatest Conductors of All Time." The editors interviewed dozens of current well-known conductors, among them Valery Gergiev, Mariss Jansons, Simon Rattle, Colin Davis and Yannick Nezet-Seguin. Yannick's choices? Carlo Maria Giulini, Herbert von Karajan and Simon Rattle. This was an illuminating exercise. The magazine went to the people who ought to know and their choices give music-lovers a good sense of who is important and who isn't. It also reveals a lot about the conductors giving the opinions. Unfortunately, the magazine goes too far - as Gramophone did in its survey of the greatest orchestras - by ranking the conductors selected as 1, 2, 3 etc.

In defence of the magazine, it should be mentioned that the ranking was done on the basis of who the current conductors had chosen and how often. And the top three were tabulated as follows:

1. Carlos Kleiber
2. Leonard Bernstein
3. Claudio Abbado

Fresh from watching Abbado conducting the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra in a sensational concert last year in Lucerne (on an Accentus Music DVD), I would certainly put Abbado near the top of any such list. And Bernstein would be there too. No. 4 on the list, by the way, was Herbert von Karajan, and on my list he too would rank with the very best as would Toscanini and Furtwangler.

But most surprising to me - and perhaps to others too - was the selection of Carlos Kleiber (1930- 2004) as Numero Uno. After all, he conducted fewer concert and opera performances than anyone else on the list. According to BBC Music "he conducted just 96 concerts in his life, and about 400 opera performances." Moreover, he had a tiny repertoire which included only four of the nine Beethoven symphonies and two of the Brahms symphonies and no Bruckner or Mahler at all. And contemporary music? Forget about it. He was notoriously reluctant to conduct anywhere. It didn't help that he demanded far more rehearsal time than any other conductor. In the early 1990s he stopped conducting altogether except for the occasional benefit concert. Karajan famously said that Carlos Kleiber only accepted conducting engagements when his freezer was running low.

For more about Carlos Kleiber - not to be confused with his father Erich Kleiber, also a famous conductor - visit the website www.carlos-kleiber.com.

The video shows Carlos Kleiber in 1983 conducting the last movement from Beethoven's Seventh Symphony with the Concertgebouw Orchestra.

- Paul E. Robinson

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