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Jonathan Woolf
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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37 (1803) [35:01]
Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58 (1806) [34:18]
Clara Haskil (piano)
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Charles Munch (3)
Studio-Orchester Beromunster/Erich Schmid (4)
rec. Boston, 3 November 1956 (No.3) and 25 January 1959 (No.4)
TAHRA TAH634 [69:49]
Experience Classicsonline

Tahra is good at giving one the pounds, the shillings and the pence of performance history undertaken by their chosen artists. In the case of this release for instance we have a simple two page look at Haskil and Beethoven; which works were performed and how often. I had forgotten entirely – if I ever knew – that she had played some of the Violin Sonatas with Ysa˙e in Paris in March 1927. Her conducting colleagues for the Concertos went from Enescu to Weingartner via such as Scherchen, von Karajan Fricsay, Wand et al. The two concertos she performed the most were the C minor and the G major, the ones duly presented by Tahra. The Fourth was her most often performed; remarkably she never performed the Fifth, a trait shared with the Grieg, Tchaikovsky; she never played any of the Bartók concertos.
For the C minor she was joined by Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony in November 1956. This has been out before now, on Music and Arts [CD 1096(2)], though I’ve not heard that rival transfer and so can’t say whether – though assume – it shares the cloudy sonics of this one. There are very occasional finger smudges but they are of passing moment. Rather more of a loss is the obscuring of orchestral detail due to the nature of the recorded sound. Much more important though is the sympathetic direction conjured by Munch and Haskil’s elegant precision; that fine first movement cadenza, the lyrical buoyancy of the central movement, its wave like lyricism in her hands. The finale is genial and not over-accented. The winds are Boston-distinctive but only when Haskil is not playing and we can hear them.  Munch unleashes his bass section appositely here and the percussion ensures the concerto receives a characterful and vital close. 
The collaboration between Haskil and the Studio-Orchester Beromunster under Erich Schmid is new to me and to the discography. It was recorded a few years later in 1959 in much better sound, though one must note the acidy string tone and the lack of ambience and bloom in that sound. As with the earlier concerto we have commercial documentation of her way with this, but there is an engagingly fresh sense of phrasing that will, I think, compel genuine interest from even those sated by the work – if there are such. The exchanges between Haskil and the wind principals are fine, and again her first movement cadenza is first class. Her pliant responses to the orchestral forces in the slow movement are affecting but not quasi-philosophic. And her lightness and grace haunts the finale to great benefit. 
There is a caveat enshrined in any recommendation here – principally regarding recorded sound – but these live performances add something important to the known parameters of her studio recordings of both works and are therefore worthy of note.
Jonathan Woolf


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