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Friedrich Gulda (piano)
Piano Concertos
rec. 1959-62
SWR CLASSIC SWR19088CD [3 CDs: 158:35]

There’s been no real diminution of Gulda releases in the two decades since his death. Of late, though, SWR in particular has been exploring its master tapes in a more focused way, ensuring whole recitals are being heard in the best possible sound. They have been doing this to such an extent, with overlapping series devoted to different artists, that there has been duplication so, if you collect Rosbaud’s SWR legacy, you should be aware that the final disc in this 3-CD Gulda box offers an internal SWR recycling from its Rosbaud-Mozart box (see review). Therefore if you have that box there will be a one-third redundancy if you acquire the set under review.

This concerto set should best be seen as a sibling to the Stuttgart solo recital box on SWR19081CD, a big, engaging 7CD box detailing recitals from 1966-79. Three of the concertos are by Mozart, a major focus for Gulda, of course. The C minor K491, with Joseph Keilberth is the earliest example in the set, dating from July 1959. The orchestral introduction is brooding and watchful and Gulda, who had first performed the work in 1952, also captures the uneasy, unsettled nature of the writing. In years to come he would accentuate rhythmic elements in the orchestral tuttis, or employ arpeggios, but not this early in his career. Elsewhere the quiet melancholia is explored without exaggeration though Curzon, to take one example, was a more powerful exponent of the work’s emotive extremes. The other two Mozart concertos are in the Rosbaud box.

His rapport with Keilberth was evident and in Hans Müller-Kray, ever dependable and a powerful figure in Stuttgart broadcasts, he had another expert colleague to direct Beethoven’s G major Concerto in February 1960. This was a concerto he first played in public in 1946 with Ansermet, and his last performance of it came nearly 50 years later in 1993 when he directed from the piano stool. This is a purposeful reading, with a hint of his love of jazz to be heard, perhaps, in the rhythms of the cadenza. The slow movement is not as starkly contrastive as many other readings; there’s a greater sense of integration between the orchestral mass and the solo piano. It’s a personal, perceptive approach.

In this context the central disc, Haydn and Strauss (both again with Müller-Kray, January 1962), may seem quixotic. But though he seldom ventured into the realm of Haydn’s sonatas he did perform the G major concerto a few times. Gulda certainly captures a considerable amount of the geniality and humour in the writing and his playing is both sprightly and charmingly voiced. Given his propensity for two-concerto evenings it’s not surprising that the pianist should contrast the Haydn with Strauss’ Burleske, all the more fortunate, really, as Gulda had little affinity for the late-Romantic repertoire. This work clearly appealed to him as he had recorded it a number of years earlier on a mono LP with Anthony Collins conducting. Clarity is the energizing force at work here and whilst he’s not as brisk as Elly Ney on her 78 set, he is quite as commanding. There’s a Debussy encore, Feux d'artifice, to end this disc.

Remastering from the SWR tapes has been carried out with this label’s accustomed excellence and the booklet note lays out the scene with commendable precision. There’s much valuable music-making in this set.

Jonathan Woolf

Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, K491 [32:27]
Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR/Joseph Keilberth
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58 [33:55]
Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR/Hans Müller-Kray
Haydn: Keyboard Concerto No. 11 in D major, HobXVIII:11 [19:19]
Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR/Hans Müller-Kray
Strauss, R: Burleske for Piano and orchestra in D minor, AV85 [19:33]
Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR/Hans Müller-Kray
Debussy: Préludes - Book 2; No. 12, Feux d'artifice [4:17]
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 14 in E flat major, K449 [22:31]
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg/Hans Rosbaud
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K488 [26:21]
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg/Hans Rosbaud

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