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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Clara Haskil - 1947-1954 Recordings
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor Op.37 [26.03]
Winterthur Symphony Orchestra/Henry Swoboda, recorded 1950
Piano Concerto No.4 in G major Op.58 [32.55]
LSO/Carlo Zecchi, recorded 1947
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Piano Concerto No.9 in E flat major K271 Jeunehomme [29.52]
Stuttgart Radio Orchestra/Carl Schuricht, recorded live, 1952
Piano Concerto No.13 in C major K415 [25.52]
RIAS Symphony Orchestra/Ferenc Fricsay, recorded live 1954
Piano Concerto No.19 in E major K459 [26.18]
Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra/Ferenc Fricsay, recorded live 1952
Piano Concerto No.20 in D minor K466 [29.51]
RIAS Symphony Orchestra/Ferenc Fricsay, recorded 1954
Piano Concerto No.23 in A major K488 [24.58]
Vienna Symphony Orchestra/Paul Sacher, recorded 1954
Clara Haskil (piano) with accompaniments as above
Recorded 1944-54
ANDROMEDA ANDRCD 5003 [3 CDs: 69.02 + 75.16 + 61.53]

Iíve never heard of Andromeda before but the cut-off date of these Haskil concerto performances might suggest an-out-copyright German company. I could be wrong but it has all the hallmarks; no notes, no provenance, just a bare track listing. Clearly this makes recommendations difficult, especially as I donít have access to the original releases or to the re-releases on various labels, but Iíd be persuaded to think that the Beethoven C minor is sourced from a DG Reissue 471 264-2 GWM and that the Jeunehomme derives from Hänssler Classic 93.079 (where it was there coupled with the Nineteenth Concerto and a different version from the Fricsay-led one in this box). Leaving niceties aside for the moment I should note that these performances come from a variety of sources. The two Beethoven concertos are both from commercial discs, the C minor from tape, the G major recorded in London on 78. Of the Mozart concertos I believe two are commercial Ė the D minor and the A major, the remainder being live.

As an Olympian Mozartian and one who held even such as Lipatti in her thrall Haskil remained one of the leading exponents of the repertoire throughout her sadly truncated recoding career. Collectors will have many if not all of these recordings, both live and studio-bound. If there are weaknesses they generally concern orchestral standards and sound quality, rarely soloistic concerns. That said her Beethoven C minor concerto with Swoboda will not win many plaudits. There are impressions in execution and balance, the band is very subfusc, tuttis are soggy and the sound is inordinately shallow. Haskil herself drops a few notes along the way, and thereís a strange edit at 15.45 in the first movement, which may have been inherent or may not. The recording turns the finale into something of a percussion show and the rather sour toned winds certainly enjoy themselves, even if we donít. The G major is much better known and much better played, by the LSO under the fine direction of Carlo Zecchi. It was recorded quite close-up and was not especially well balanced and whether this company has tried to execute a 78 transfer itself or whether itís preserved an old LP transfer the results are not good. Side joins are poorly done and thereís a deal of shellac scuff. The performance is excellent however- adept, responsive, never outsize, coalescent rather than overly dramatic with a concentration in the slow movement that is utterly convincing and a finale that is vigorous, clean and with good rhythmic drive.

Which leaves five Mozart Concertos. The Ninth has some "shatter" early on but improves though thereís an annoying treble whine throughout. Haskil evinces her fabled naturalness of expression, evenness of runs and paragraphal sagacity. Her playing is poised but never calculating, rubati beautifully judged. She takes a flowing tempo for the slow movement and crowns it with a gravely accomplished cadenza. It helps to have a man like Schuricht on hand. There are a trio of performances led by Fricsay. The C major strikes a finely judged balance between crisp assertion and reflection Ė chording is immaculate, phrasing is fluent without any glibness in the runs Ė and thereís a spun legato in the slow movement. The F major is unfortunately split across discs two and three but it receives another buoyant reading though one not untroubled by a few sound defects. There are one or two hesitancies in the slow movement and what sounds like a splice at 2.18 (though this is down as a live recording) but the string fugato is well etched in the finale as indeed is Haskilís dynamism and involvement.

The D minor K466 (RIAS/Fricsay, January 1954) is marked by a noble and grave introduction and a few transient coughs, though theyíre (typically) at their most annoying in the slow movement where Haskilís shaping of dynamic gradients and the melodic curve of the music is at its most intense. Articulation is precise, a few missed notes of incidental concern only and when it comes to the finaleís cadenza we can witness Haskil at full stretch. Her last commercial discs at the end of the decade could very occasionally be somewhat compromised by an unexpected lassitude Ė not here. The final concerto is the A major K488 with a VSO conducted by Paul Sacher in October 1954. Strings are a touch thin, the acoustic is rather odd with a distant piano, and Sacher canít replicate the kind of support provided by Schuricht and Fricsay. Heís rather inert throughout, content to provide a cushion of sound and not to engage with the rhetoric of, say, the finale to mutually beneficial advantage. Itís a bit of a soggy Vienna Symphony that sees Haskil to the line - and a lacklustre conductor.

So a difficult set to consider Ė Haskilís Mozart is treasurable and her Fourth Beethoven equally so. Fricsay and Schuricht are the splendid accompanists who raise the bar. The recording quality is very variable, the transfers similarly and there are no notes. Itís a question of how much of Haskilís Mozart (in particular) you have and whether you need it in so-so transfers.

Jonathan Woolf

 

 



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