Classical Album of the Week

Classical Album of the Week

This week, on July 3, the Austrian-Argentine conductor Carlos Kleiber, would have turned 85. To celebrate this contemporary genius, this week’s Classical Album is Kleiber’s complete recordings on the venerable Deutsche Grammophon, which was his label for the majority of his career.

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Karajan, Bernstein and Abbado were all great conductors of the 20th century, but mentioning the name of Carlos Kleiber always produces a special reaction.

Carlos Kleiber, originally named Karl, was born in Berlin in 1930 and died in Slovenia in 2004, shortly after his 74th birthday. His mother, Ruth Goodrich, was American, while his father, Erich Kleiber, was Austrian, and a very esteemed conductor in his own right.

Erich was a profound role model for Carlos, which had a positive and negative effect on the son throughout his life. His father’s influence is widely considered to also have been a major obstacle to Carlos’ own success.

The life and career of Carlos Kleiber as a conductor was, and is still to this day, a mystery to many.

This was not only an artistic, but on a personal and emotional level. And there are many opinions on the reason why; whether it was due to a fragile mind and psyche, the shadow of his father or something else. However, as a conductor Kleiber was completely unique and his recordings, though there are not many, are among the most beloved and best-selling albums of all time.

So much has been written and said about maestro Kleiber, that if you tried to read through it all it would surely take more time than he ever spent on stage conducting. He was notorious for canceling concerts, including some that had already started. On several occasions he had to be forced back on stage to complete a performance. Twice he was hired to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, but both times he cancelled and left home again before the concerts had even taken place.

Kleiber became known as ”The Refrigerator Conductor,” along with a few other slightly pernicious nicknames referring the fact that, in his later years, he usually only conducted when the refrigerator was empty.

Then he would take out one of the many contracts he is said to have had lying on his desk, sign it, conduct and cash in, usually handsomely. On one occasion, as if the fee itself wasn’t enough, he got a brand new car on top.

Comparing his discography with other great conductors of the time, the amount of recording might look comprehensive. In reality it’s quite scarce, considering that his career lasted over 40 years.

One of the most legendary Kleiber recordings – Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde” – the conductor left the recording session just before recording the third and final act, and did not come back. Fortunately, the engineers were able to re-edit fragments of previous intensive rehearsals, piecing together the act into a complete recording.

Carlos Kleiber stands out as one of the most brilliant, and in some ways tragic, conductors of the 20th century.

This week’s Classical album not only contains three full operas, an operetta and symphonic works by Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms, but also gives a musical insight into a musician and a man who lived and breathed the music, but underwent many anguishes in order to perform it.

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(Photo: © Siegfried Lauterwasser / DG)

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