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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 20, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 20
God-like Kleiber steps down a notch in DVD set
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God-like Kleiber steps down a notch in DVD set

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

When one loves music of any kind, he or she tends to have some special favorites, often elevating those favorites to almost super-human status. The opera queen has his divas - in my case, soprano Zinka Milanov and Ella Fitzgerald (an unlikely pairing). My other musical gods are conductors such as Claudio Abbado, or composers such as Sibelius, Bruckner, or Wagner. I don't attempt to justify those choices; they simply speak to me on a level I can't explain.

But the trouble with having such gods is that they can blind one. I passed up a lot of Renata Tebaldi at the old Met because she was not Zinka! That was stupid, and I kick myself for it. And worshipping one's gods can lead to bitter disappointment when one of them doesn't live up to one's expectations. Such is certainly the case with the ten-DVD set I am reviewing here. Almost unconsciously I had put Carlos Kleiber on a pedestal, feeling he could do no wrong. While this complete set of opera and concert videos by Kleiber contains some supreme beauties, it also points out to me some deficiencies I hadn't noticed before.

The simple fact is that even the greatest conductors have their limitations. And even if they didn't, it remains that great music usually has more than one equally valid interpretation. Even if Abbado can convince me that Mahler is a sublime composer of totally compelling music, that doesn't mean that Simon Rattle or Gustavo Dudamel can't do as well in a quite different manner.

So, if Kleiber breezes through some moments in Brahms' second and fourth symphonies that I think are so sublime as to deserve special treatment (perhaps a less metronomic, broader tempo to highlight and expand the feeling), my disappointment is merely the product of my immature wish to elevate this conductor beyond human limitations. It's not his fault that his temperament does not always align with mine.

Where that temperament does indeed align totally with mine is in both of the two complete performances of Richard Strauss' opera Der Rosenkavalier, filmed in 1979 and 1994. The only reason I had not purchased one of these earlier was that I could not decide which one I preferred; they are both beyond serious criticism, though with very different casts. Generally, I guess I would recommend the later version because of the somewhat superior picture and sound and because of the wonderful Kurt Moll as Der Baron Ochs. But I love Brigitte Fassbaender's Octavian in the earlier cast. So, you see, I'm delighted to have both of them! (Fassbaender also appears as Prinz Orlofsky in the altogether wonderful 1986 Die Fledermaus, also included in this set.)

The 1989 and 1992 New Year's concerts with the Wiener Philharmoniker are utterly delightful, beginning to end. Also included are Beethoven's fourth and seventh symphonies, Mozart's 33rd and 36th symphonies, and the aforementioned Brahms. All are highly recommended. For more information, see www.dgwebshop.com.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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