It is laudable that King International have released
these Mozart piano concerto performances, given by Walter Klien on his
visits to Japan. The orchestra is the very fine NHK Symphony, the Japanese
orchestra based in Tokyo. The conductors featured are Horst Stein and
Hiroshi Wakasugi, the latter a name new to me.
Walter Klien (1928-1991) was born in Graz, Austria, which was incidentally
also the birthplace of Alfred Brendel, a pianist Klien recorded some
duet repertoire with. His piano teachers included Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli.
He studied composition with Paul Hindemith. Highly regarded as an interpreter
of Mozart and Schubert, Klien produced some very fine piano sonata recordings
of music by these two composers. Another highlight of his recording
career is his collaboration with Arthur Grumiaux in the Mozart violin
sonatas. This is one of the sonatas’ most inspired traversals.
Clear textures and crystalline clarity always distinguish his playing.
It is regrettable that the bulk of his recordings were for Vox, a company
that did not showcase an important artist of Klien’s calibre in
the most flattering light.
The four concerto performances featured here were recorded between 1977
and 1989. With the exception of K491, which I will come to later, these
additions to the Klien discography are vital readings and worth preserving.
Klien offers the listener compelling performances, with a refined and
focused approach. He is never self-conscious in any way, and does not
impose his personality. There is no exaggeration, no ostentation and
his playing is free of mannerism. These are noble readings, displaying
an innate sense of style and musicianship. I like the way he tastefully
embellishes the melody in the recapitulation of the Adagio of K.488.
Now to the question of K491. Klien was obviously having an off day when
this was taped. The performance is earthbound and prosaic. An example
is the descending phrase at 2:57 in the first movement and the melodic
line at 5:48 in the slow movement, which are heavy-handed and lack poetry,
grace and charm. There seems to be no joy or love here. Stein directs
the orchestral players as though on automatic pilot. Maybe this factor
did not inspire Klien to greater heights. This is not a performance
I would want to return to.
Although I am not enamoured of this K491 I would not hesitate in relation
to the other three. These are inspired readings by a pianist whose Mozart
stands there with the best. The sound throughout is excellent. Notes
are in Japanese, but a short profile of the NHK Symphony Orchestra is
provided in English.
Masterwork Index: Mozart piano