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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Rondo in A minor, K511 (1786) [9:30]
Piano Sonata No.12 in F K332 (1781-83) [14:09]
Piano Sonata No.10 in C K330 (1781-83) [12:08]
Piano Sonata No.5 in G K283 (1775) [10:48]
Fantasie K475 (1785) [11:25]
Piano Sonata No.14 in C minor K457 (1784) [16:46]
Wilhelm Backhaus (piano)
rec. 1956/67, Grosser Saal of Mozarteum, Salzburg
BELVEDERE 10148 [75:09]

Belvedere’s restoration presents Wilhelm Backhaus’ only two appearances at Salzburg’s Mozart Week festivals. The first came in 1956 and the second eleven years later when, almost 83 years old, Backhaus was two years from his demise but still playing with huge technical conviction.

The recorded sound for the Salzburg performances of 1956 is very slightly hollow though certainly perfectly listenable given the tapes are now nearly 60 years old. They show Backhaus’s Mozart at this period to be concerned with legato binding but also an awareness of the necessity to project a strong bass line. The Rondo in A minor is a perfect example of his resonant playing as well as his cultivation of the music’s lighter elements. For all his rugged appearance and the often rugged repertoire he espoused, Backhaus was never unaware of the music’s less serious moments. The other items from the 1956 recital are the Sonata K330 and Fantasie, K475. Cannily controlled rhythm marks out the reading of the former though some listeners, even then, might have welcomed a more sparkling first movement. He always tended to play the Allegretto finale at rather fast, almost breathless tempo – something that sets him quite apart from a near-contemporary such as Gieseking, who preferred a more relaxed approach. The audience, however, breaks into delighted applause. The Fantasie is austerely done, near-Beethovenian in its drive, but possessing an absolute integrity of approach.

In 1967 he essayed three sonatas. He catches the urgency of K332 with fine rhythmic control which he relaxes sufficiently to contrast the almost operatic vocal quality. Those bass accents are richly orchestral in implication, more like bass pizzicati than anything, and for an 83-year-old the finale is buoyancy itself. There are a very few dropped notes in K457 but it’s remarkable how resilient and accurate is his mechanism at this late stage. K457 is an especially compelling example of Backhaus’ rough-hewn and dramatic Mozart playing.

The useful booklet notes set the scene very adequately and detour to include Backhaus’s less than savoury behaviour in the National Socialist era.

The frisson of a live performance is certainly one that animates many of these performances though they are still similar in tone and architecture to those he recorded for Decca. The year before this 1967 recital, for example, he had recorded K283 in Geneva and the 1956 recital examples had been preceded the previous year by mono Decca recordings. Examples of the recitals have appeared before on the Memoria label, but that doesn’t lessen appreciation of this culling of performances from both Salzburg recitals.

Jonathan Woolf



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