Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Columbia SAX 2342 Klemperer and his Englishmen Do the Scotch

SAX 2342

Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 3 "Scotch", Hebrides Overture

Otto Klemperer, conductor
Philharmonia Orchestra

Pressing: ER2

Condition: EX+

YAX 547-6
YAX 548-17

Performance: 9/10

Sound: 7/10

Price range: $25-379, mean $145 on popsike

Comments:  We must be on a roll, because the last few SAX records have been real hits.  

We open with the Hebrides Overture (also known as Fingal's Cave Overture), which I have really come to appreciate since I first heard it two years ago.  According to my reading, this work is a miniature tone poem which describes young Mendelssohn's travels to the Hebrides Islands off the west coast of Scotland in 1829.  Apparently, this involved a turbulent sea voyage to see Fingal's Cave, a basalt-rock formation, and I think that you can really hear this drama in the music.  I love the opening chord progression which outlines the chord of B minor by moving from B minor to D major to F# minor to B major.  Klemperer's tempo is not sluggish in the least.  In fact, a comparison of his tempos with other notable recordings of the same work from the era show that he is right there with the rest of them:

Reiner (CSO, RCA) -- 9:39
Schuricht (VPO, Decca) -- 9:53
Maag (LSO, Decca) -- 10:01
Klemperer (PO, Columbia) -- 10:25Karajan (BPO, Columbia) -- 10:29
Kempe (VPO, EMI) -- 10:42

The Overture is appropriately paired with another work influenced by Mendelssohn's travels to the English Isles, namely his Third Symphony nicknamed "Scotch".  Interestingly, although the idea for this symphony was conceived in 1829 during his trip to England, the work was not completed until 12 years later in 1842.  According to the scholarly liner notes, "The first movement opens with a slow sombre introduction conjuring up the scene of the ruined chapel at Holyrood Palace."  This is apparently the place where he came up with the theme to the introduction.  Mendelssohn ultimately dedicated this to Queen Victoria, who was a great admirer of his work.  Though this is not my favorite Mendelssohn symphony, I still find it pleasant to listen to, and I find the fourth and final movement the most interesting.

Sound quality is very good here.  Nice dynamic range and clarity.  Winds especially are presented very clearly (also a Klemperer trademark).  In the final movement, again, there was some loss of clarity in the loud passages, though I'm now beginning to blame this on the limitations of my cartridge.  I have the second pressing; the turquoise/silver could potentially have something over this one.  Klemperer's chief competition with this pairing is Peter Maag and the LSO on London/Decca, one of the many famous Decca stereo recordings.  I used to have the Blueback but sold it, so I can't do a head to head comparison, but I remember that record also sounding very good.


  1. I've got the Blue and Silver going at $100 for NM lately. These are the only two pressings I see. 86 entries on popsike mean this one is commanding a pretty good price given the supply. It might be better in the B&S.

    I've got a nice pressing just after the blue back pressing of the Maag. I also have my previously mentioned duct tape special blue back that I just Indian gave back from a friend. I'll update on the sound. I remember liking the blue back a lot. Not as enamored with the later pressings. I'd favor the blue back for the money.

    1. Do you have the wideband FFRR pressing? I bet that one could be superior to the FFSS. Let me know what your thoughts are.