Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 36 (1802) [34:24]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 34 in C major, K338 (1780) with Minuet in C, K409 (1782) [25:12]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
The Firebird – Suite (1919) [20:23]
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Karl Böhm
rec. 11 August 1968, Grosses Festspielhaus, Salzburg
TESTAMENT SBT1510 [80:14]

The world doesn’t lack for live Böhm inscriptions – and seasoned collectors of the conductor may well roll their eyes at the sight of Beethoven’s Second Symphony and Mozart’s K338 on the bill – but repertoire new to his discography is a somewhat different matter. For this appearance at the 1968 Salzburg Festival, in which he directs the Berlin Philharmonic, the novelty is Stravinsky’s 1919 Firebird Suite.

One doesn’t associate a huge raft of major twentieth-century repertoire with Böhm, other than the obvious Strauss and Berg and other smaller pieces, but he did espouse Janáček’s Jenůfa and is known to have held Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex in the highest esteem. So it’s not too big a stretch to this largely reflective performance of The Firebird Suite. Böhm savours in particular the sweet lyricism of the Ronde and the vaporous atmosphere of the Berceuse, which is probably the interpretative high point of this reading. But it would be idle to suggest that he could have generated as much visceral tension as Igor Markevitch did, by common consent, when he directed The Rite of Spring at the festival in 1952. Altogether more clement, with rhythms that cosset rather than bite, Bohm’s approach is altogether more upholstered.

Which is not to underplay the executant superiority of the orchestra, of course. They show this quality to an even greater extent in the two canonic works that make up the remainder of the programme. The Beethoven is familiar from studio and other live inscriptions but it is splendidly pointed, rhythmically vital, and never forced or over-accented. The winds come through the balance well, and the ensemble sonority is altogether teakier than that habitually cultivated by Karajan. Effective contrasts in the slow movement are almost avuncular whilst the finale is notable for a degree of fieriness; there’s nothing sedate or complacent, and nothing Salzbourgeois about this reading.

For Mozart’s Symphony No.34, Böhm interpolated the Minuet and Trio, K409, as Mozart himself had done a few years after the three-movement symphony had been written. Böhm had already recorded it twice by this time, the last in 1966 in Berlin. Again, this buoyant and alert reading reflects high interpretative and executant standards, as well as abundant expressive sympathy. Neither this reading nor that of the Beethoven is, in any material way, inferior to the studio inscriptions.

Graced by fine Richard Osborne notes and excellent remastering – very little aural degradation, a tiny bit of high level hiss – this is an excellent example of Böhm on-the-wing in Salzburg.

Jonathan Woolf

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