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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No.19 in F major K459 (1784) [27:48]
Piano Concerto No.24 in C minor K491 (1785-86) [28:18]
Clara Haskil (piano)
Lausanne Chamber Orchestra/Victor Desarzens
rec. Theatre de Beaulieu, Lausanne, October 1957 (K459) and June 1956 (K491)
CLAVES 50-2617 [56:13]

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART

Piano Concerto No.19 in F major K459 (1784) [27:55]
Piano Concerto No.20 K466 in D minor (1785) [30:12]
Clara Haskil (piano)
Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire/Jerzy Katlewicz
Philharmonia Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan
rec. live, Besancon Festival, October 1956 (K459); live, Mozarteum, Salzburg, January 1956 (K466)
TAHRA TAH628 [58:37]

These two discs offer four Haskil performances of three Mozart concertos given within the space of nineteen months. Claves gives us two performances with Victor Desarzens and the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra and Tahra give us a Besancon Festival reading with Jerzy Katlewicz and a Salzburg traversal of K466 with the touring Philharmonia and von Karajan, the conductor who is said to have revered Haskil.
The Claves first. These are light, limber performances orchestrally speaking. Detractors might cite rhythmic flabbiness from time to time but set against that there’s aeration to the wind and string textures that bigger name orchestras and conductors wouldn’t have dreamed of countenancing even in 1956 and ’57. I must also cite the flutes – excellent playing. Haskil herself exhibits fluency, occasional fallibility but total involvement in K459. Things crest with malleability, tone colours are appropriate, projection remains consonant and the alliance with section principals is secure and of chamber-like intimacy of expression. The string moulding of the slow movement is subtle and effective with a good command of corporate dynamics. The finale’s fugal passages are very adroitly done. 
Tahra’s recording of the concerto is with the Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire and Jerzy Katlewicz and it was given a year earlier at the Besancon Festival. Here accents are bigger and there’s rather more of a masculine force about things. The recording here is also more “present” with the result that Haskil’s accompanying figures sound more over-projected than they would have been in concert – the rival performance shows how discreet she was in this respect. Dissonances are somewhat more strongly brought out as well. The orchestral sound is less polished here than in Lausanne and the slow movement is more of a conventional affair than the more intimate chamber-sized encounter the following year. The winds are tighter than their more mellifluous Swiss counterparts as well. Things as a result, on Haskil’s part as well, sound rather more externalised. Her tone is a touch harder as well, less rounded and in the finale less malleable. Though here the fugal passages are more exciting than in Lausanne.

Back to Claves for K491. This is another nuanced collaboration - congenial and affectionate and founded again on chamber intimacies as well as more boldly expressed gestures. The highlight is the slow movement with beautifully rounded Haskil tone and with the bassoonist strongly to the fore a real sense of narrative linearity. There’s real drama in the finale as well – note once more those pert wind statements and the conductor’s sympathetic direction.
And so finally back to Tahra for their Philharmonia-Karajan performance. The winds here are in highly characteristic Philharmonia form. Karajan spins his gravely smooth legato but proves to be a pliant and almost deferential conductor for Haskil. Incidentally I believe that this is the concert attended by Tatiana Nikolaeva who came to hear Karajan but left having wept at Haskil’s playing, the Russian pianist referring to Haskil as  “the best Mozart player.” Certainly the playing is often beautiful and highly refined, the slow movement most obviously, though it’s perhaps a touch heavy in the finale from time to time.
There is no shortage of live Haskil material as the duplication here shows. Both discs offer real virtues – the consonant intimacy of the meeting with Desarzens contrasts with the more mixed Tahra brace. All though are vivid and warm examples of her playing. The Claves is the more reflective and successful, the Tahra the more provoking.
Jonathan Woolf


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