> Myra Hess Vol 2 [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Jun2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Myra Hess. Live recordings from the University of Illinois. Volume 2
Ludwig Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Piano Concerto No 21 in C K467
Repeat of Finale
Piano Concerto No 9 in E Flat K271
Closing speech
Myra Hess, piano
University of Illinois Sinfonietta/John M Kuypers
Recorded 17 and 18 March 1949
APR 5539 [66’53]

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The second volume of APR’s invaluable series finds Myra Hess playing two Mozart concertos closely associated with her. APR itself released a previously unissued 1942 recording of K467 with Hess and the Hallé Orchestra conducted by Leslie Heward. Her 1952 Perpignan recording with Casals is well known. So in a sense this could be seen to be a release ancillary to her known performances. And yet that would be to underestimate the considerable gains in flexibility, in freedom, in Hess’s live performances. This series makes those gains increasingly clear.

In the first volume of this series I reviewed a Chopin Fantasie that was incendiary – in truth too incendiary – and if there are no comparable revelations here there are still very real pleasures. The first is in welcoming the restoration of preserved recordings long known of – not least from the discography in Marian McKenna’s Hess biography – but long inaccessible. The University of Illinois has made their original acetate discs available and Marshall Izen provided tapes of them as well as writing the liner notes – common to all three volumes – and also the delicious cover caricature. The quality of the sound is inevitably compromised and constricted. The balance favours the piano to a degree rather ruinous to the balance but these are the inevitable limitations inherent in live recordings of this kind. We can only be grateful that so much was preserved and that the restoration has made so much listenable.

The University of Illinois Sinfonietta is enthusiastically variable. Wind counter themes are barely audible in the first movement of K467 and the prominence of the piano allows us to hear Hess’ crystalline runs as, equally, the submerged strings encourage us to concentrate on her articulation of the passagework. She is quicker in the opening movement than she was seven years earlier with Heward – only to be expected given the live nature of the music making – with gains in quicksilver responsiveness. She is especially successful in the sheer limpidity of her phrasing in the slow movement and her perky and lithe playing in the finale. Rather delightfully we can hear her asking the audience if they want to hear the finale again and she then gives it as an encore. As in the Heward recording she uses Denis Matthews’ cadenzas.

Her K271 was recorded the following evening. There is here an engaging and rather stimulating frisson between soloist and orchestra. John Kuypers encourages a rich patina of romantic phrasing within a broadly romanticised frame. Hess is expressive and wholehearted but less obviously romantic than the orchestra and the creative tension engendered is most appealing. There’s no denying the murky sound of orchestra or the sudden drop-out in the slow movement though.

But here is Hess, at fifty-nine, playing her beloved Mozart in the most congenial of surroundings and still in infectiously good form.

Jonathan Woolf

 


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