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The conductor Carlos Kleiber

September 6, 2006

Just over two years ago, the great Austrian conductor Carlos Kleiber died at the age of 74.

He was an extraordinary man and a consummate artist. Shy, retiring — to the point, some said, of being pathologically so — he never gave an interview to the media. Despite being the most sought-after conductor in the world during the 1980’s and ’90’s, his recorded performances could be counted on the fingers of both hands. Among them were definitive versions of Beethoven’s 5th and 7th Symphonies, Brahms’ 4th and a sublime reading of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.

With his passing, the era of the great conductors came to an end. Georg Solti and Leonard Bernstein, likewise schooled in the shadow of WWII, had gone before him, but despite the paucity of his recorded output, Kleiber eclipsed them both. He was the only conductor of the post-war era who deserves to be spoken of in the same breath as Furtwangler.

Here he conducts the overture to Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus. Kleiber’s way with Strauss was controversial: clipped, military, staccato, unsentimental, avoiding every comfortable cliche. Enjoy.

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