Review: BBC Music Magazine, Editor’s Choice

May 2012 / Michael Tanner

An unexpected, fascinating insight into the world of conductor Carlos Kleiber

TRUE TO HIS WORD:  Kleiber was one of the last great letter writers

“This is mainly a book so fascinating that for once the ‘impossible to put down’ cliché is appropriate. Charles Barber was, in 1989, a young music teacher and conductor who sent a short letter to Kleiber, and to his amazement received a reply a few days later. He wanted to be Kleiber’s student, but there could be no question of that. Instead, they became frequent correspondents, and all of Kleiber’s letters concerning music are published here, with enough of Barber’s to make the exchanges intelligible…

“What makes Kleiber’s correspondence with Barber especially interesting is that Barber regularly sent Kleiber video cassettes of the great conductors, eliciting a deluge of comments on their style, greatness (or weaknesses), and their music. Kleiber’s criticism alternates with his commentary on his own slender repertoire and his growing distaste for conducting…

“The first 180 pages are devoted to a biographical sketch, with many quotations from letters:  illuminating, but I doubt whether many readers will be able to resist the temptation to leap ahead to the epistolary section. Both parts give us a vivid picture of a life of prodigious promise, largely wasted…

“… grateful though we must be to Barber for producing this book, it must be said that his own contributions are often turgid, almost to the point of unintelligibility.”

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