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Jonathan Woolf
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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Rare Recordings 1934-1970
Piano Concerto No.20 K466 [32:31]
Les Petits Riens, ballet K299b [14:36]
Symphony No.39 K543 [24:55]
Horn Concerto No.2 K417 [13:39]
Divertimento No.11 K251 [21:19]
Symphony No.38 K504 [23:37]
Sinfonia Concertante K364 [29:08]
Serenata notturno K239 [Serenade No.6] [14:53]
Symphony No.41 Jupiter K551 [26:26]
La Betulia liberata K118 [72:31]
Mitja Nikisch (piano) Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Rudolf Schulz-Dornburg, recorded 1934 (Piano Concerto)
Winterthur Municipal Orchestra/Hermann Scherchen, recorded 1941 (Les Petits Riens)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Leopold Ludwig, recorded 1941 (Symphony No.39)
Dennis Brain (horn), NDR Symphony Orchestra/Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, live recording 1954 (Horn Concerto No.2)
NDR Symphony Orchestra/Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, live recording 1954 (Divertimento No.11)
Orchestre National de France/Hans Rosbaud, recorded 1954 (Symphony No.38)
Arthur Grumaiux (violin) William Primrose (viola) Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra, live recording 1955 (Sinfonia Concertante)
Toronto Symphony Orchestra/Hermann Scherchen, live recording 1965 (Serenata notturno)
Toronto Symphony Orchestra/Karel Ancerl, live recording 1970 (Symphony No.41)
Cesare Vallenti (Ozias); Myriam Pirazzini (Giuditta); Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (Amital); Boris Christoff (Achior); Luigia Vicenti (Cabri) Orchestra and Choir of RAI, Turin/Mario Rossi, live recording 1952 (La Betulia liberata)
TAHRA 595-598 [4 CDs: 72:56 + 59:46 + 71:31 + 72:31]


This four CD set from Tahra ranges unusually widely. It might seem like something of a buffet but actually it possesses a gourmet touch. Firstly it presents what is apparently the first ever CD transfer of Mitja Nikisch’s only commercial disc recording – though he did make piano rolls. Mitja was the son of Arthur Nikisch. The notes are strictly discographic and not biographical so they don’t have room to mention is that he’s far better known for the famous dance-band he led in Berlin than for this foray into the classical world – though of course he had a prestigious classical background. His career with blighted by the Nazis and he killed himself in Venice in 1936, aged thirty-seven. The set of K466 is a fairly rare one and sounds a little swishy in places. The conductor of Arthur Nikisch’s old orchestra is another little known musician, Rudolf Schulz-Dornburg. The performance is articulate and certainly worth a listen – though rather heavy from time to time.

Hermann Scherchen conducts the brief music from Les Petits Riens. The desirability of this is increased by virtue of the fact it was recorded in wartime Switzerland and must have seen limited distribution. The same thing applies to Leopold Ludwig’s Berlin recording of Symphony No.39 K543, which must have been set down within a few months of the Scherchen. Ludwig may now be better known as a fine accompanist but he proves quite capable of sculpting the slow movement with considerable panache.

I welcome any and all duplication of repertoire by Dennis Brain. This 1954 broadcast of K417 is presided over by that sovereign musician Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt. To those who find the Brain-Karajan recordings a touch Olympian then live performances such as this one and a recording directed by Rosbaud of the E-flat, K. 447 might prove salutary. New Brain archive material is being issued at a fine rate – and there is plenty more to come. A few months later Schmidt-Isserstedt was taped in the Divertimento No.11 K251. To complete the second disc we have the already mentioned Rosbaud making the Orchestre National de France sound pretty tidy in Symphony No.38.

The third disc opens with the Sinfonia concertante with Grumiaux and Primrose as protagonists and the much underrated Otto Ackermann directing. Both string players had performed the same work with Ansermet in 1953. As far as the violist is concerned I’d rate this fortunate survival on a par with his recording with Albert Spalding - although by now Primrose had taken on a Heifetz-influenced tone – and ahead of his meetings with Stern and Heifetz himself. Grumiaux’s recording with Pelliccia and Colin Davis is justly famous but this is the only live recording known to me. A splendidly preserved meeting of titans. Scherchen’s Toronto Serenata notturno – with a really Scherchenesque slow Minuet – is followed by yet another rarity – Ančerl’s Jupiter. No commercial Mozart symphonic recordings are known to have been made by him so this 1970 Toronto performance is all the more valuable.

The last disc is given over to a 1952 broadcast of La Betulia liberata. A little reminder of two of the soloists - Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Boris Christoff – should stimulate some interest. Fortunately the recording is in very acceptable sound for its time. There is also a harpsichord continuo. Listeners will note the slow movement of the Sinfonia concertante had its origins in an extended aria in this work. Christoff is all one would expect and Myriam Pirazzini is a scary, tough Judith; Schwarzkopf has less to do but this is nevertheless a valuable souvenir of a pioneering performance of a seldom-performed work.

Obviously this is specialist collector territory. Its mix of rare commercial recordings and equally rare preserved broadcasts is attractive - and I would say enticing. The programme is also really quite well balanced – symphonies, concertos, divertimento, ballet music and a big vocal work.

Jonathan Woolf



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