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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Carl Schuricht and Wilhelm Backhaus
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Piano Concerto No. 5 Emperor
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Symphony No. 40 in G minor
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847

Hebrides Overture
Wilhelm Backhaus (piano)
Orchestra della Radiotelevisione della Svizzera Italiana/Carl Schuricht
Recorded 27 April 1961 at the Kursaal Teatro Apollo, Lugano
AURA 114-2 [71.19]
AVAILABILITY

www.aura.com
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Carl Schuricht was eighty-one when he gave this concert at the Kursaal Teatro Apollo in Lugano in April 1961. The Emperor joins the small list of other surviving Beethoven accompanied performances – Kempff in 1955 in the First and Arrau in 1959 in the Third – both made with the Orchestre National de France. The Swiss Italian radio broadcast captures the concert in very acceptable sound; little recession or over prominence really mars the enjoyment. The Emperor is by no means note perfect but it captures Backhaus and Schuricht in notably grand and animated form. The latter encourages eloquent flute and oboe contributions in the first movement with Backhaus taking on a strata of chamber intimacy often glossed by more gimlet-eyed performers. There’s no doubting his chordal power, however, when he chooses to unleash it. Yes there are fluffs and finger slips in the second movement but this is unusually alert and strong playing, with no oases of relaxation; some may think it rather hard-nosed and impassive but others will appreciate its relative tensile strength and also its refusal decoratively to linger. This is a performance, for all its digital imperfections and relative inflexibility, that knows precisely where it’s going. Venomous attacks accompany Backhaus in the finale along with more dropped notes, an almost inevitable corollary of concert making; again this is distinctive, frequently distinguished, often granitic music making, the two men making a remarkable alliance (the pianist, at seventy-seven was the conductor’s junior by only four years).

Presumably Aura has reversed the running order of the concert, beginning as they do with the Concerto and ending it with the Hebrides Overture. The Mozart would have ended it and this receives a most persuasive and distinguished reading. Schuricht elicits some fine first violin playing in the opening movement – something that Hermann Scherchen could not always manage to do from the same orchestra. In the Andante one can hear the layering of string tone, a degree of heightened expressivity and a sense of evolutionary momentum without undue haste – all very impressive. His minuet is strong and rock solid and the finale, with some individual touches of rubato, generally convincing. In fact this is, in almost all respects, a consistently excellent performance and one that is informed by imagination, technique, experience and an acute ear. The Hebrides plays us out, with Schuricht’s crescendos timed to perfection. In fact the whole disc shows him as a conductor of vastly elevated talent.

Jonathan Woolf

 


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