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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto no. 13 in C, K.415, Piano Concerto no.19 in F, K.459
Clara Haskil (piano)
Berlin RIAS Symphony Orchestra (K.415), Cologne WDR Symphony Orchestra (K.459)/Ferenc Fricsay
Recorded in Berlin, March 1953 (K.415) and Cologne, May 1952 (K.459)
URANIA URN22.245 [55:16]

 

These recordings are published for the first time and I can’t quite make out if they are taken from original tapes in the Berlin and Cologne radio archives or whether they are off the air. If the latter is the case, they are very clean and interference-free. If they are originals then I would have expected a clearer and less distorted sound – there is much curdling of tone from both wind and pianoforte in the louder passages – even considering the date.

The technical limits of the recordings will probably restrict interest to the pianist’s many admirers, since she recorded both works later for DG – K.415 with the Bavarian State Orchestra under Bernhard Paumgartner and K.459 with Fricsay and the Berlin Philharmonic. She also recorded K.459 for Westminster with the Wintherthur Symphony Orchestra under Henry Swoboda, but this was compromised by poor orchestral playing.

However, while those discovering the art of Clara Haskil will do better to hear the DG recordings, those with a little patience will find many rewards here. Despite a life ravaged by illness and personal tragedy, Haskil’s Mozart achieved a calm, Olympian sublimity which is a locus classicus of one particular way of playing this composer. You might at first find her undemonstrative, under-characterised even, yet within the classical limits she imposes upon herself she misses nothing. And not even these recordings can disguise the fact that she had a radiantly beautiful tone. Is she just a little too prim and proper at times? I think not, but I can only explain the fact that Haskil’s "limitations" prove to be nothing of the sort while the apparently similar limitations of an Ingrid Haebler are just that by invoking the very subjective concept of spirituality. Haskil had something in her which could move us, and we shall probably never be able to explain this any more than we can explain why Mozart himself moves us.

I have a query over Fricsay’s handling of the opening theme of K.459. He has the strings phrase with such a suave legato that the repeated notes – so smartly rapped out by George Szell in his classic recording with Rudolf Serkin – almost seem one single long note. The trouble is that when the theme comes in the wind and later on the piano, they cannot phrase in this way and their repeated notes are clear. So I think Szell was right, and the theme should be phrased in the same manner whichever instruments are playing it.

Christopher Howell

 

 



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