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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART
Piano Concerto no. 9 in E flat, K.271 - "Jeunehomme"
Géza Anda (pianoforte), Salzburg Mozarteum Chamber Orchestra
Fantasia in C minor, K.475
Wilhelm Kempff (pianoforte)
Sinfonia Concertante in E flat, K.364
Thomas Brandis (violin), Giusto Cappone (viola), Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Karl Böhm
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 Böhm
Le nozze di Figaro: Overture, Non più andrai, farfallone amoroso, Porgi amor, Voi che sapete, Dove sono i bei momenti, Gente, gente, all'armi, all'armi
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Conte), Gundula Janowitz (Contessa), Edith Mathis (Susanna), Hermann Prey (Figaro), Tatiana Troyanos (Cherubino), German Opera Orchestra,Berlin/Karl Böhm
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 CDs: 78.43 78.46]
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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 period.

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.

Christopher Howell

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