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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No.29 in A, K201 (1774) [28:18]
Piano Concerto No.19 in F, K459 (1784) [29:30]
Symphony No.35 in D, K385, Haffner (1783)
Maurizio Pollini (piano)
Wiener Philharmoniker/Karl Böhm
rec. live, Kleines Festspielhaus, Salzburg, Salzburg Festival, 30 August 1980, ADD
ORFEO C891141B [79:07]

What’s your favourite Mozart symphony? For Karl  Böhm (1894-1981) it was No. 29. You can believe that given the combination of grace and fire, often quickly in alternation, that he brings to this live recording. It is from the very last concert he gave at the Salzburg Festival, in 1980. What stands out about its opening movement is its strength of utterance, starting softly but repeated emphatically, here with a steely insistency. The first part of the second theme (tr. 1, 1:03) flowers forth in a different manner, from the same note repeated four times to a rising and falling five-note cluster. Then, in its second phase (1:45), sighing descents are succeeded by determined ascents. You're aware of the geometrical nature of this in Böhm’s meticulously crafted presentation, yet though that second phase begins descending suavely, when it ascends it finishes with an fp accent. There’s an underlying passion ready to erupt at any moment. The development begins with a flashily ornamental version of the ascent which is immediately beaten down by a fiery tremolando maintained by the same violins which have climbed there. In the coda an evocation of the graceful rise and fall of the second theme is imperiously swept away by the first theme, only for that to exchange loud and soft elements at two-quaver intervals and thus take on the characteristics of both themes.

How does this concert compare with Böhm’s 1968 ‘studio’ recording with the Berlin Philharmonic on Deutsche Grammophon 4776134. Interpretation and tempo are effectively the same. The soft high strings of the BPO are silkier but their brightness when loud is somewhat glassy. Böhm secures the same thrilling contrasts but they seem less flowingly spontaneous than at the VPO concert​. The second theme is more deliberate, the fp accent more of a stab rather than a suddenly yet naturally evolving surprise. In the coda the first theme follows loudly rather than rebuffing the second theme.

The slow movement, with violins muted, is winsome, intimate and homely, a gentle opening theme smoothly flowing from Böhm in 1980 at a leisurely Andante. The second theme (tr. 2, 0:50) is warmer and more purposeful but its second part (1:45) patters in daintily bantering fashion. Timing at 9:49 the 1980 concert is a full minute longer than the 1968 recording, but the more relaxed approach gives the movement more character and emotion. In 1968 the string sound is more luxuriant, which allows a more appreciable contrast at the pp opening of the second part of the second theme.

Böhm in 1980 starts the Minuet innocuously but there's a touch of gawkiness in the oboes and horns' fanfare at the tail of its first strain, immediately taken up by the strings in the second strain. The Trio turns on the charm, yet the loud close of its first phrase, quickly repeated, is a reminder of the underlying edginess. I prefer Böhm in 1980 with phrasing more lithe and dynamic contrasts more subtly managed than in the 1968 recording. The finale is marked Allegro con spirito and is certainly that from Böhm in 1980 with the bold rising followed by cascading descent of the first theme. The second theme is suitably contrasted in its lighter, clucking manner with a skittish leap at the end of the phrase while the uninhibited horns in the coda anticipate those of Beethoven's Symphony 7 finale. The 1968 account is more sonorous but less spirited, its second theme heavier and less jocular.
Piano Concerto 19 is Mozart at his most cheerful. Its first movement is dominated by a perky opening theme around which Bö​hm in 1980 stimulatingly crafts lightly applied sforzandi and bracing dynamic contrasts. Maurizio Pollini's entrance with the theme is fluent and mellifluous, after which he offers variations on the second theme (tr. 9, 2:29) before introducing a more searching third theme (2:44) which is never heard again. There's more than enough in the improvisatory feel of musing in turn on the first theme and second theme. The development begins with a thunderous delivery of the first theme and still varies it in the recapitulation. In Mozart's cadenza Pollini finds a wistful realization of both first and second themes. Böhm and Pollini recorded this concerto with the Vienna Phil in 1976 (Deutsche Grammophon 4779376). The overall mood in 1976 is more convivial. There's more bloom to the horns' contributions. The strings' descents are less gossamer but more skipping. The interaction between piano and orchestra is more appreciable, probably largely a matter of the luxury of being able to finesse the recording balance, yet the whole movement thereby coheres better. However, I preferred Pollini's 1980 cadenza: in 1976 his emphasis is on virtuosity, with a twinkling treatment of the first theme and a mischievous manner for the second.

Böhm takes a stately view of the Allegretto marking of the slow movement (tr. 6) but the introduction is sweetly delivered and Pollini's decorated repeat of the main theme is full of poise. Not until 3:13 does the second theme, which is later developed poignantly, appear. Böhm and Pollini conjure a mood of time standing still, pondering it all. Only the final appearances of the descending phrases of the second part of that second theme seem too sturdily delivered for its mood of forlorn resignation.​ In the 1976 recording progress was a little smoother and I like its more distinctive contrast between the presence of the orchestra and rather more withdrawn nature of the piano. For more skipping momentum and more deftly handled descending phrases in that second theme, go to Howard Shelley directing the London Mozart Players from the piano in 1993 on Chandos CHAN 9256.

The finale is technically very accomplished, a maze of five themes delivered at breakneck speed which is certainly Mozart's Allegro assai and an exhilarating roller-coaster ride. Its centre-piece (tr. 7, 3:53), presented with clarity and verve, combines the movement's opening rondo theme with the second, fugal theme first heard at 0:24. Mozart's cadenza is relished by Pollini as it moves from rugged treatment of the fugal theme to an increasingly sniggering manner with the opening theme. I prefer the spontaneity of this performance to the more stylish presentation of the 1976 recording where Pollini's cadenza is more forcefully virtuosic but evinces less humour.
Symphony 35 is the most popular work on this CD. No wonder, when it grabs you by the throat, hurls you in the air, makes a few comforting gestures, then grabs you again. That's just the first 34 seconds of Böhm's 1980 concert, after which there's the swashbuckling of streams of whirling semiquavers. It's also the first appearance at this concert of heavy timpani which boom through the fairly reverberant acoustic. Böhm's 1959 recording in his Berlin Phil set has even more energy and, taking 5:31 to 1980's 6:03, more show of virtuosity. The 1980 slow movement flows benignly and with grace with lissom figurations from the violins. It's serenely shaped and progressed, though fuller in tone. It also possesses less range and subtlety of dynamic contrast than we hear nowadays with smaller orchestras and historically informed performances. Böhm's 1959 recording sounds more modern because this movement is smoother, sunnier and more assured and has more finesse. It doesn't repeat the first half, which the 1980 concert does, but as that doesn't repeat the second half the earlier recording provides a better balanced movement. In 1980 Böhm makes the Minuet by turns pompous and svelte. The Trio is relaxed yet there's always something of interest in its texture and progression. The contrast between Minuet and Trio is more effective in 1980 than 1959, the Trio more lilting. In both accounts Böhm's finale shows that playing can be disciplined but also fun.​ 1959 has more dynamic contrast and a little more pace, 1980 more pointed articulation. This CD's concert gives us a Böhm and Pollini of more spontaneity than the crafted polish of their earlier recordings.
Michael Greenhalgh



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