Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 9 in Eb, KV271 (‘Jeunehomme’) [30:17]
Piano Concerto No. 19 in F, KV 459 [27:17]
Clara Haskil (piano)
Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra/Carl Schuricht
rec. 23 May 1952 Stuttgart-Degerloch, Waldheim (KV271), 4 July 1956 Schloss Ludwigsburg Barock Theater (KV459)
SWR MUSIC SWR19013CD [57:34]
I was thrilled to receive this CD for review; one of my most treasured recordings, many years back, was an Ace of Clubs LP of Beethoven’s Concerto no.4, with Haskil and the LPO. Can’t recall the conductor for sure – it might have been Carlo Zecchi. I found her playing captured perfectly the serene, poetic nature of that piece, without sacrificing any of its inwardness or drama.
She was one of the truly great pianists of her age; born in Romania, she entered the Bucharest Academy at the age of six. Here career would have taken off much earlier but for health problems. Despite those, she gained wide recognition amongst musicians and audiences alike, and fortunately left a legacy of wonderful recordings, especially of the classical concertos, two examples of which we have here.
The first thing to say is that these are remarkably fine recordings, both in terms of the exceptionally good balance that has been achieved between soloist and orchestra, and of the welcome absence of surface noise. The orchestral playing is of a very high standard, and the recording allows most of Mozart’s fine detail to come through, which is often lost in the case of poorer recordings or heavy-handed soloists.
The so-called ‘Jeunhomme’ concerto is one of the most interesting of Mozart’s comparatively early works. The name is a bit of a mystery; it was composed in Salzburg in 1777 for a young French pianist, possibly called Victoire Jenamy (though Mozart refers to her as ‘Jenomy’ in his letters). It is a brilliant and original work, with the soloist entering immediately in answering the orchestra’s opening phrase, rather than waiting, as was Mozart’s usual way, for the completion of their opening ritornello. The slow movement, in the relative minor, has a great deal in common, as well as the key, with the middle movement of the violin and viola Sinfonia Concertante of a couple of years later. Then, in the finale, the lively main body of the movement is interrupted by a graceful minuet; the lead-back from this to the main section, with pizzicato quavers in violins passing to the top register of the piano, is pure Mozartian delight.
K.459 dates from 1784, and belongs to the group of concertos Mozart wrote for himself to play during his Vienna years. Therefore it is, by default, among the greatest instrumental works ever composed. Here, as in the ‘Jeunehomme’, Haskil’s playing is limpid, utterly stylish, managing to convey the underlying character of the music without any suspicion of exaggeration. Clearly, she was using a full-size grand piano as was expected in the 1950s. But in every other sense, her playing feels very modern, in particular in the strong sense of dialogue with the orchestra, especially the wood-wind, who are virtually joint soloists.
As I listened to the finale of this glorious work, I had that strange feeling that I never wanted it to stop! With no need for allowances for its era, we have here Mozart playing that is, in its way, perfection. The critic Jérôme Spycket wrote that Clara Haskil was a pianist who ‘observed the smallest detail without drawing undue attention to it’. That is so true; her playing is a joy, and these are wonderful recordings, to be cherished by any Mozart lover; no, let’s just say anyone who loves great music played by someone who feels and understands it profoundly.