Piano Concerto no. 9 in E flat, K.271 - "Jeunehomme"
Géza Anda (pianoforte), Salzburg Mozarteum Chamber
Fantasia in C minor, K.475
Wilhelm Kempff (pianoforte)
Sinfonia Concertante in E flat, K.364
Thomas Brandis (violin), Giusto Cappone (viola), Berlin Philharmonic
Così fan tutte: Overture, Bella vita militare, Soave sia il
vento, Come scoglio, Il core vi dono
Gundula Janowitz (Fiordiligi), Brigitte Fassbaender (Dorabella),
|Hermann Prey (Guglielmo), Rolando Panerai (Don Alfonso),
Vienna State Opera Choir, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Karl
Le nozze di Figaro: Overture, Non più andrai, farfallone amoroso,
Porgi amor, Voi che sapete, Dove sono i bei momenti, Gente, gente, all'armi,
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Conte), Gundula Janowitz (Contessa), Edith Mathis
(Susanna), Hermann Prey (Figaro), Tatiana Troyanos (Cherubino), German Opera
Don Giovanni: Overture, Madamina, Dalla sua pace, Fin ch'han del vino,
Batti, batti, Non mi dir, Don Giovanni, a cenar teco
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Don Giovanni), Walter Kreppel (Commendatore),
Sena Jurinac (Donna Anna), Ernst Haefliger (Don Ottavio), Karl Christian
Köhn (Leporello), Irmgard Seefried (Zerlina), RIAS Chamber Choir, Berlin
Radio Symphony Orchestra/Ferenc Fricsay
DG PANORAMA 469 166-2 [2
A strange feature of many of these Panorama issues is the way in which a
large part tends to be dominated by one artist, not quite enough to satisfy
his admirers but enough to put off his detractors. And very often the
performances not by that artist seem chosen to suggest a
critique of his methods. Some time back I had a Puccini offering dominated
by the late Giuseppe Sinopoli, whose offerings were badly shown up by the
items conducted by Serafin and Karajan. Conversely, I more recently had a
compilation of American music in which the pieces conducted by Bernstein
(thankfully over half) beat the rest to the ground. Here the dominating artist
is Karl Böhm, a legendary name in Mozart interpretation in the post-war
The first movement of the Sinfonia Concertante is extremely broad and majestic,
the second warmly flowing. In a certain sense Böhm does nothing, having
set the tempo, except keep things on an even keel, and the soloists (taken
from the orchestra) are happy to play along. However, rhythms remain very
much alive, there is no heaviness or sagging of tension. There is much more
actual conducting taking place than you would think. The problem is the finale
which really is slow for a Presto, and above all so smooth and comfortable
and lacking in any vital spark.
Still, this is good news compared with what follows. The Così
was a late affair based on a Salzburg production and generally found wanting
beside Böhm's earlier EMI version with the Philharmonia, a performance
sometimes accorded "great" status but hardly a sparkler. After a listless
Overture we get a choral extract of less than a minute, "Soave sia il vento"
which is suited to the serene tempo, Gundula Janowitz in surprisingly
uncomfortable form (and some ugly chest tone on her lower notes) in "Come
scoglio", and the whole dismal sequence ends with a marmoreal "Il core vi
dono" in which Guglielmo's ardour and Dorabella's minx-like egging-him-on
have the ring of a funeral oration through a public-address system.
"Figaro" is a decade earlier but don't try boiling your egg to this Overture
which doesn't even maintain the moderate tempo it starts off at. After a
sedate "Non più andrai" we get a long-drawn "Porgi amor" of exquisite
beauty from Gundula Janowitz (later her "Dove sono i bei momenti" is equally
ravishing). Yet once one has stopped admiring the gorgeous sound, neither
she nor Böhm seem to want to put any emotion, or even meaning into the
music. It all passes by, reducing Mozart to a forerunner of New Age. "Voi
che sapete" is a very steady affair, too. Does Troyanos know the meaning
of the words she is singing? The last extract is predominantly (very) slow
though the final send-off has terrific vitality. A bit late in the day.
People who put out this sort of compilation should remember they have a very
great responsibility towards first-time buyers (and to their own future sales,
I'd have thought). Anyone who encounters these two comic operas for the first
time here is going to get a very serious impression of them. Come to think
of it I've heard performances of the "Requiem" which had more humour in them
than this. To be fair, I have happy memories of Böhm's "Zauberflöte"
and I am sure there are recordings which do him far more justice.
Fricsay, in "Don Giovanni", concentrates on a lean orchestral sound and fairly
detailed phrasing. The Overture and the scene of Don Giovanni's death (these
extracts, like performances in the 19th Century, end here) are
powerfully done and the one solo piece we get from the Don (all 1' 23" of
it!) is scintillatingly sung by Fischer-Dieskau. But the rest, partly through
the odd selection, does not greatly satisfy. Köhn's is a fundamentally
unattractive voice (the sort we hear in amateur Gilbert and Sullivan
performances) so his "Madamina" is hardly welcome. Haefliger, Jurinac and
Seefried were all fine singers but alternate exquisite moments with somewhat
effortful ones. Were they not happy with the conductor's approach?
The pity is that the twofer had begun rather well. Géza Anda was,
I believe, the first to direct a complete Mozart cycle from the keyboard
(but it was a set that took some time to materialise and I don't swear that
the young Barenboim's cycle, though begun later, did not get to the end first).
It all seemed quite pioneering in its day, with a scaled-down orchestra (not
quite the best that could have been used, as later cycles with the ECO showed)
and an unromantic approach. The first movement bowls along with much vitality
and the finale almost falls over itself. But what is notable is the slow
movement, very spacious and full of grave, tender expression, and the slow
section of the finale, which is quite sublime.
Wilhelm Kempff begins the Fantasia promisingly, in a direct, rather Beethovenian
manner. However, his left-hand-before-right in the D major section and his
pedalling through his rests and generally wayward rhythms in the B flat andantino
suggest he was not basically a Mozart pianist.
I suppose I've spent an awful lot of space when the message is "don't buy
it" and those three words would have done. Some more of Géza Anda's
Mozart would be welcome at a future date.