Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58 [33:12]
Symphony No. 2 in D major op.36 [34:28]
Friedrich Wührer (piano)
Austrian Symphony Orchestra/Karl Randolf (Op. 58)
RIAS-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Georg-Ludwig Jochum (Op. 36)
rec. 1951, Vienna (Op. 58); 1950s, Berlin (Op. 36)

Browsing the catalogues, there’s not that much out there on CD featuring the artistry of the Austrian pianist Friedrich Wührer (1900-1975). Forgotten Records have previously released four CDs documenting the pianist’s work, this being the fifth. His recorded legacy centred mainly on the German Romantic repertoire, but he was also an enthusiastic champion of the Second Viennese School. His claim to fame was a Schubert piano sonata cycle that he made for Vox. It's desperately crying out for reissue.

It was with Vox that Wührer made a Beethoven piano concerto cycle in the 1950s, in what seems to have been a rather piecemeal affair, employing three different orchestras and four conductors. This can be found on a Tahra 4-CD set (Tah 704-707). There, the fourth concerto was assigned to the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Jonel Perlea. It was recorded in 1957.

The performance we have here is a heady mix of lyricism, drama, tension and relaxation. Wührer is not one to impose his personality but lets the music do the speaking. There are no idiosyncrasies, mannerisms or unwanted exaggerations. The slow movement is particularly effective, where Beethoven pitches the orchestral declamations against the more conciliatory piano line. All this leads, without a break, into a sprightly finale. Karl Randolf, who I’ve never heard of before, proves himself a fine collaborator.

It was helpful doing a head-to-head between this 1951 version, and the 1957 rerun with Perlea and the Bambergers. The sound-picture in the earlier version is too treble-focused, starved of bass and of front-to-back perspective. The piano sounds quite brittle and hard. In the later Vox recording there is greater depth of sound and the piano tone has more bloom and warmth.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Beethoven’s Second, as it was the first of his symphonies I ever heard, in a recording with L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande under Ernest Ansermet, on an Ace of Diamonds LP. Georg-Ludwig Jochum, younger brother of the more famous Eugen, leads his RIAS forces in a superbly inspirational performance, blessed with favourable sound. He includes the first movement repeat, which is a tick in the box for me. The slow movement is exceptional for its eloquence and graceful demeanour.

Stephen Greenbank