The first symphonic work by Mozart that Klemperer ever conducted was K.550. The Kölnische Zeitung noted that his use of a reduced string section emphasised the dark aspects of the score and the work was played ‘con espressione, yet with a translucency and a rhythmic and dynamic finesse in the true classical style’. His 1956 recording of the symphony for EMI drew praise from Gramophone magazine’s conductor/critic Trevor Harvey – ‘for me easily the most satisfying recorded performance. I wouldn’t want a bar altered anywhere. The Philharmonia give Klemperer the most lovely playing, especially in the quiet string tone...’. In later years Klemperer liked to couple the Mozart G minor with Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony (soon after this 1965 London concert he gave the same programme in Hamburg, his mother’s birthplace). He had first conducted the Bruckner in 1921. It became a work that he used to champion the composer’s music where it was less known and which he liked to perform for his own début engagements in Europe and America. After a concert with the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra in 1927 the critics rejected the music but noted drily that Klemperer was applauded ‘as, it is safe to say, no conductor of a Bruckner symphony has ever been applauded in New York’. Much the same story (appreciative audience, hostile critics) repeated itself in Rome in 1931 and in London.
In February 1958 Klemperer returned to the Symphony in Vienna where the concert began with another of his Mozart favourites, the A major Symphony K.201. The critics, thrilled that Klemperer could now conduct standing up – recovery from a hip operation had kept him seated for a decade before, built up a romantic picture of triumph over physical adversity and, for the Bruckner Seven, bordered on the ecstatic. One writer recalled how Klemperer was actually named in Thomas Mann’s Dr Faustus novel as composer Leverkühn’s conductor of choice for the première of his Apokalypse. Others hailed his ‘great deeds’, ‘style of interpretation which made the music into a spiritual power’, his awareness of ‘music’s highest sense, its role as a spiritual discipline’ and his handling of the symphony as ‘song-like, full of streaming lyricism and powerfully shaped climaxes’.