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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 19 in F major K459 (1784) [27:48]
Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor K491 (1785-86) [28:18]
Clara Haskil (piano)
Lausanne Chamber Orchestra/Victor Desarzens
rec. Théâtre de Beaulieu, Lausanne, October 1957 (K459) and June 1956 (K491)
CLAVES 50-2617 [56:13]


 

For much of her career Clara Haskil remained a ‘pianist’s pianist’, an artist that relatively few took much notice of until the final decade of her life. Then, suddenly, she was in demand and famous. Although the fame was fully deserved it was something she refused to take seriously. Partnerships with Enescu, Fricsay, Grumiaux and Hindemith amongst many others yielded fruit in terms of concerts and – in most cases – recordings. As Jérôme Spycket’s passionately heartfelt accompanying programme note makes clear, Clara’s recorded legacy is as precious as it is infuriating, due to the fact that several versions of some works exist whilst whole tranches of her early repertoire are lost to us. Whilst I find her as brilliant in Beethoven as de Falla I am no less grateful that uniquely Haskil succeeded in taking dryness out of Hindemith’s "The Four Temperaments". I have to admit though that above all Mozart was her special preserve.

Mozart’s piano concerto 19 in F major exists in five other versions with Haskil as soloist, and concerto 24 exists in six others. So it’s reasonable to ask if a release featuring yet another version of both works is needed. Haskil addicts will, I dare say, claim that it is; and might already have rushed to purchase the disc.

If one needs other reasons to investigate the release there are several that can be pointed to. Firstly, these are radio recordings of live performances. Comparing Haskil’s studio recordings against live performances I feel that she lost her inhibitions in front of an audience and thus tended to give freer performances as a result. This recording was made using a microphone set-up that caught the details of orchestral sonority as well as the soloist, if not always favourably. For the most part, the ensemble does not overwhelm the soloist as so often happens in amateurishly recorded live performances. Allied to this there’s little reason to curse the audience’s presence. Yes, they applaud wildly at the end of each concerto, but are largely silent during the music itself.

Secondly, the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra is an ideal-sized orchestra for Mozart; it is large enough so that each section has some body to its tone but small enough to retain a transparent lightness when the textural layers thin out in piano passages.

Third is the conductor, Victor Desarzens. A conductor new to me, his early career was as a violinist in the Orchestra de la Suisse Romande, before conducting the LCO from 1942 to 1972. He also taught conducting at the Lausanne Conservatoire. A quick browse on the web reveals a steadily growing output of archive performances that featured him. From these concertos it is obvious that he was a Mozartian with taste and flair. I would rather that than a star name who injects precious little other than a mighty maestro’s ego into proceedings.

But in the end it comes down, inevitably, to Clara Haskil; not as a factor by herself but how her playing and interpretation work with the other points I mentioned above. Nowhere do all the factors come together better than in the Andante movement of the C minor concerto. The sound is spacious, with a near ideal balance between soloist and orchestra. If the rest of the concerto comes across with not quite the same refinement, then the recording itself is relatively to blame. In tutti passages it can harden somewhat, and this is a major affliction throughout the F major concerto. As heard on this disc, Haskil’s playing sounds uncharacteristically lumpy and at odds with Mozart’s intentions. Should you want Haskil in this concerto, a better recommendation is her studio recording from 1957 with the Bavarian State Orchestra under Ferenc Fricsay on DG 449 722-2. The couplings are the concerto in B flat major, K. 595, and the F major sonata, K 280.

The Claves disc, however, will have its niche appeal for Haskil enthusiasts.

Evan Dickerson

 




 


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