Aureole etc.

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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Karl Böhm (1894-1981)
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Piano Concerto No 4
Violin Concerto
Wilhelm Backhaus, piano
Christian Ferras, violin
RSO Berlin (Piano Concerto. Recorded 9 October 1950)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (Violin Concerto. Recorded 18 and 19 November 1951)
Karl Böhm
TAHRA 448 [79’46]


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Böhm had recorded both these works in 1939 with the Dresden Staatskapelle. The soloist in the Piano Concerto was the same, Backhaus, whereas the violinist was Max Strub. I last saw those performances coupled on LP – in Volume One of the Böhm in Dresden box set – though doubtless they’ve made subsequent reappearances … and rightly so. Over a decade later Backhaus and Böhm were taped in the Concerto in a broadcast recorded by RIAS, Berlin. The conductor moulds the strings with powerful care but there’s also a slight feeling of rhythmic insistence. Backhaus is fluent, not at all unstable, if sometimes guilty of some over-languid phrasing in the first movement. His cadenza here is also more than slightly hectic in places. The slow movement’s solemnity is not of the famous Orpheus and the Beasts variety. There’s less a sense of confrontation and more a feeling of interiority here, in which the soloist and orchestra become subsumed into a single line. It conveys a spirit of indivisibility, of an active monologue and not of a fractious orchestra battening on the reflective-philosophical piano. These things are of course difficult to convey but both soloist and conductor maintain the linearity of the argument, its mutual reliance to the end and I found it a thought provoking view. The Finale begins rather daintily but soon adopts very slightly stolid tempi and Backhaus again indulges a rather raucous cadenza.

The Violin Concerto brings to the fore the French violinist who was so popular in Germany, Christian Ferras. His slim tone hadn’t yet fully taken on its more abrasive qualities though that rather fast vibrato is in place. He makes a predictably big slow down for the second subject and sounds meticulously phrased – really rather too meticulously phrased for me – as he does so and bordering on mannerism. There’s some strong and heavy profiling from Böhm as there is in the second movement. The Berlin basses are deep brown but occasionally a little immobile. Ferras meanwhile is reverential in his playing though, lacking the range of tone colours of more opulent players, relies instead on the prayerful intimacies of his tight vibrato, sure technique and elegant phrasing. There is a rather extreme orchestral diminuendo from the conductor before Ferras takes a mini cadenza before the finale. I liked the strength and power of the orchestral crescendo here, the intensity of the soloist’s rhythmic emphases. Ferras audibly tires in the cadenza where some roughness in bowing begins to afflict his playing but trips away cleanly to a bright conclusion. A predominantly traditional performance then and one recorded on two successive nights so one supposes some patching and splicing has been employed. The notes are rather sparse but the sound is splendid.

Jonathan Woolf

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