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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 9 in E flat Major K271 [30:41]
Piano Concerto No. 19 in F major K459 [26:25]
Variation on a Minuet by Jean-Pierre Duport K573 [10:38]
Clara Haskil (piano)
Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester (K271 & 459)/Otto Ackermann (K271), Ferenc Fricsay (K459)
rec. live, 11 June 1954 (K271), 30 May 1952 (K459), 7 September 1956 (K573), Funkhaus, Saal 1, WDR Cologne (K271 & 459), Besançon Festival (K573)
MEDICI ARTS MM004-2 [67:46]



Not for the first time, I find it rather difficult to write about Clara Haskil. Her manner of playing is ostensibly very plain, almost unaffected. And yet the listener is held constantly. She may appear to spell out her opening phrase too literally in K271, yet listen to how she starts the finale. Some pianists rattle this off. With Haskil, the dynamic gradations are small yet infinitely subtle, as are her tiny inflections of pace. The music breathes, it has life. In the minor variation of K573 her tone does not seem especially modulated, nor her left-hand textures especially refined. What she seems to communicate is a higher truth. I can only liken this to a singer whose voice is so intrinsically individual and fascinating that she does not actually need to do very much to convey her message. Or rather, Mozart’s message, for the music is made to speak to us directly. Bryce Morrison’s booklet notes quote an unidentified writer as saying she was “one who observed the smallest detail in the music without drawing attention to it”. Those who pay attention to her will find every smallest detail in the music revealed to them.
 
In Otto Ackermann she found an ideal partner, one who matches exactly the Olympian luminosity of his soloist. Only recently I was listening to a Klemperer issue in this series from the Cologne archives and was not very impressed either by the orchestral playing or the recording. The woodwind here are not quite as creamy as on the best Philharmonia discs of the period but I heard nothing to disturb me orchestrally and the recording seems as good as can be reasonably expected for the date. As well as the logo of Medici Arts, the production bears that of the WDR, so it’s an official release using the original masters.
 
Fricsay’s recordings of some of the Mozart operas have been seen as harbingers of historically informed practice. None of that here. He is far too smooth and under-motivated. In the “allegretto” the intended dialogue becomes a sort of music lesson. The orchestra plays a phrase mechanically; Haskil shows how it should go; on to the next. Unfortunately it’s a lesson Fricsay doesn’t want to learn. The result is that, while K271 and the variations – somewhat more brightly recorded – can be recommended to anyone in search of Mozartian truth, K459 will appeal chiefly to admirers of the pianist.
 
I find I’ve already reviewed K459, on a Urania disc which also had K415 with the Berlin RIAS Orchestra under Fricsay. I wondered on that occasion where the recordings came from and felt they were so poor as to limit interest to confirmed Haskil fans. Making a straight comparison, it’s obvious now that Urania had got hold of somebody’s off-the-air tape, for the recording sounds about twenty years older there. I’m sorry for Haskil fans who paid good money for that, but they’ll need this new issue. It’s as clear a demonstration as one could have that, if a historical performance can’t be transferred from the original source, where it exists, more harm than good may be done by issuing it.
 
Incidentally, why do we only hear of Otto Ackermann in connection with the wonderful series of operetta recordings for EMI and historical reissues where he accompanies famous soloists? What were the orchestral items played on 11 June 1954 and would they be worth hearing?
 
Christopher Howell
 



 


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