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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Vienna Philharmonic 1972-1981:

Piano Concertosa – No. 12 in A, K414 (1782) [25’34]; No. 14 in E flat, K449 (1784) [22’14]; No. 20 in D minor, K466 (1785) [31’50]. Sinfonia concertante in E flat, K364/320db (1779) [31’49]. Symphony No. 41 in C, K551, ‘Jupiterc (1788) [32’11]. Requiem in D minor, K626d (compl. Süssmeyer) (1791) [56’53].
bIgor Oistrakh (violin); dLucia Popp (soprano); dMargarita Lilowa (mezzo); dAnton Dermota (tenor); dWalter Berry (bass); dSingverein der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Wien; Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/ aMaurizio Pollini (piano/director), David Oistrakh (bviola/director; cconductor), dJosef Krips.
Live recs. Austrian Radio (ORF) in the aWiener Konzerthaus on November 15th, 1981, Grosser Saal, Musikverein, Vienna, on bcMay 28th, 1972, dDecember 8th, 1973. ADD
ANDANTE 4992 [3CDs: 200’38: 79’41 + 64’04 + 56’53]

 

Joys aplenty with this magnificent VPO Mozart set from Andante. The sheer rarity value of Maurizio Pollini caught live directing the Vienna Philharmonic might indeed be worth the full price of the set, especially when this is Pollini at his sovereign best; but these are by no means the only musical riches here.

Before further ado I should admit, perhaps, the reasons for my excitement regarding the piano concertos. The first time I heard Pollini was in Manchester’s Free Trade Hall, where he directed a touring English Chamber Orchestra in performances of Mozart’s Piano Concertos Nos. 14 and 17 (and conducting the 34th Symphony). It was a defining moment in my musical life – to hear these performances from the same period, the early eighties, was to merely confirm my memories.

There is not a hint of Pollini the literal interpreter here. Instead he goes straight to the heart of this magnificent music. He refuses to treat the twelfth concerto as ‘minor Mozart’ – there is no trace of the ‘less-than’ here. The playing of the VPO is stylish and delicate, caught beautifully by the Austrian Radio recording (which also preserves Pollini’s crystalline sound perfectly). Pollini’s technique is exemplary. His staccati are never pecked at; the cadenza is an example of supreme pianism. The Pollini/VPO combination manages to achieve true intimacy in the Andante, contrasting with the fresh and multi-faceted finale.

The Concerto No. 14 in E flat receives similar advocacy. Here the piano’s entrance is thrown into bold relief by an eminently well-mannered orchestral exposition. By bringing out the drama more than is usually heard, the resultant energy level rises. The contrastive concentration in the second movement is almost palpable. The tempo is slow (hardly the Andantino asked for) yet this is an utterly elegant statement. The D minor Concerto enters new emotional worlds, and Pollini is fully alive to the music’s dark undercurrents. (The microphones, by the way, pick up an authentic Pollini grunt at 7’36, if you listen carefully.) The tenderness of the slow movement is highlighted by the VPO’s playing, but it is in the finale that everything gels. Pollini’s voicing verges on the genius, and the whole is reminiscent of early Barenboim with the ECO (on EMI) in its grim determination, despite their differences as pianists.

David Oistrakh died in October 1974, not too long after this recording of the Sinfonia concertante for violin and viola was made and so this remains the Oistrakhs’ last account of it together. The interplay between the soloists is remarkable, David’s nimble viola being something of a miracle (has the cadenza ever been better caught?). The slow movement is a confident, relaxed outpouring; the finale unhurried and yet, despite this seeming contravention of the ‘Presto’ command, it seems exactly at the right tempo.

It is David Oistrakh who conducts the ‘Jupiter’ symphony, from the same source. Andante’s essay seems to omit reference to this, yet the performance has much to commend it (despite a slightly workaday impression of some of the first movement). In particular the rapt slow movement and the exultant, festive finale stand out.

The performance of the Requiem is notable for preserving Josef Krips’ last public appearance before his retirement. There is a backbone of granitic strength that runs through this Requiem, which breathes what we might today call ‘old-style’ Mozart (in addition, Krips used modern clarinets rather than more mysterious, veiled-of-tone bassett horns). Some movements may seem decidedly under-tempo (‘Quam olim Abrahae’, CD3 track 10, 3’25, decidedly drags its feet, for example, plodding away to no great effect, and the ‘Agnus Dei’ seems to run out of steam) yet there remains much that is moving.

It is interesting how there are pluses and minuses here – how the ‘Sanctus’ emerges like a blaze of bright light after the turgidity of ‘Quam olim Abrahae’, and how against a very uncontrolled, unsteady solo trombone in the ‘Tuba mirum’, Walter Berry’s imposing bass emerges. Dermota’s entrance appears somewhat under-powered, though.

Soloists can effectively be split into two, the new generation ladies against the older gentlemen (Dermota was 63 at the time). Popp is on the tremulous side at first, yet she is resplendent later (2’14 and onwards, track 4).

The sound can congest, a definite down point in a work such as this. But overall there is much to move the senses here (try the ‘Lachrymosa’). It is difficult to imagine anyone laying out the cash for this set purely for the Requiem, but it nevertheless remains a valuable historic document and worthy of inclusion.

Anyway, there is no doubt whatsoever that the first two discs contain treasures to return to regularly.

Colin Clarke

 



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