Friedrich Gulda (pianist, incl. jazz) plays MOZART works – New Sym. Orch. of London/ Anthony Collins/ Orch. led by Paul Angerer (K. 453)/ Vienna Philharmonic/ Claudio Abbado – DGG (10 CDs)

Friedrich Gulda MOZART Concertos & Sonatas = Piano Sonatas K. 279; 284; 310; 311; 330-333; 457; 545; 570; 576 ; Piano Concerto No. 20 in d minor, K. 466; Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major, K. 467; Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, K. 503; Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat Major, K. 595; Piano Concerto No. 14 in E-flat Major, K. 449; Piano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453; Piano Concerto No. 26 in D Major, K. 537 “Coronation”; Fantasia in c min or, K. 475; Rondo in D Major, K. 485  – Friedrich Gulda, piano/ New Symphony Orchestra of London/ Anthony Collins/ Orchestra led by Paul Angerer (K. 453)/ Vienna Philharmonic/ Claudio Abbado – DGG 482 2418 (10 CDs) (7/1015), 11:40:18 [Distr. by Universal] *****: 

Whether the world of classical music ever truly accepted pianist Friedrich Gulda (1930-2000) as a “legitimate” artist of the first rank likely remained a matter of indifference to this iconoclast and musical experimenter whose ambition had been – from his musical outset – to master Beethoven, Bach, and Mozart. But poise and elegance in Gulda’s arsenal of musical effects made their presence known early: witness his Decca inscription (December 1948) of Mozart’s “Trumpet” Sonata in D, K. 576, a plastic, fluid rendition whose music-box sonority finds its foil in the muscular, hard patina he can project.  The intellectual poise and clarity of line bespeak the remnants of the Neue Sachlichkeit in Gulda’s perspective, an approach not so distant from that of his slightly younger colleague, Glenn Gould. The process of de-personalization in Gulda’s artistic approach did not extend into Jazz, a medium wherein he reserved a space for interpersonal and spontaneous involvement. Such a statement does not belie the joie de vivre Gulda could inject into his Mozart, for even in his 1955 collaboration with Anthony Collins in the C Major Concerto, K. 503 we behold a fine symmetry of spatial breadth and ease of execution, a heightened serenity.

For the series of four concertos Gulda inscribed with Claudio Abbado, 1974-75, Gulda reveals a more expansive view of Mozart, less “brilliant” perhaps, but a sweeter, more gracious spirit prevails. Gould, too, became less “stingy” in his sound in Bach as Gould developed. And while Gulda had a tendency to “disown” his various periods of musical development after 1973 and 1986, he maintained his respect for the work he inscribed with Abbado. The last movement of the C Major Concerto allows a palpable breathing space to the intricate harmony between piano and woodwinds, and we sense that the instrumentalists truly enjoy each other’s company. The improvisational impulse that Gulda nurtured and often brooded upon has its moments in the cadenzas he composed for the late concertos, sharing the scores with cadenzas by Mozart, Hummel, and Beethoven.

The disc devoted to Gulda’s “Last Mozart Recordings” proffers a pianist with an idée fixe in regards to Mozart. The melodic lines, spun out as they are, consist of huge arches, taken in one breath, as it were. The Menuetto – Trio movement of the K. 331 projects girth and an almost rococo sensitivity at once. Gulda’s freedom in dynamic adjustments now rivals any of the steely and silver colors we know from Backhaus, Michelangeli, and Solomon, distinguished Mozart company indeed. Even the well-worn Rondo alla turca (from August, 1999) gains a new patina of nuance, of youth, of dynamic rivalry among the colors.  Played in the same spirit as Bach’s Italian Concerto, the traditional “salon” sound becomes a veritable argument in a solo-instrumental concerto grosso.

The c minor Sonata, K. 457, performed on a digital Clavinova, produces an “ensemble” sound, allowing the dramatic piece a luxurious range of expression. Suddenly, Mozart has “become” a jazz phenomenon. The rhythmic license emerges as the wished-for fait accompli in Mozart. And given the surge of emotional as well as dynamic momentum, the stylistic distinction between Mozart and Beethoven virtually disappears, at least in the outer movements. The Adagio, however, stubbornly refuses to abandon the Empyrean realm Mozart’s singular melos occupies. Both composer and interpreter share an aesthetic freedom which embraces historical periodicity and contemporary thinking in a striking synthesis. As Mozart “converted” J.C. Bach’s instrumental sonatas into his own first concertos, so Gulda has appropriated Mozart sonata for symphonic treatment.

Many of the present recordings, taken from the Gulda family archives, seemed to have been meant for private access and documentation only. With their resurrection – given the assistance of son Peter Gulda – we may bear witness to the pianist’s own dramma giocoso and ecstatic evolution in his kinship with that musical master whom Gulda had dubbed “the World Champion.”   Highly recommended!

–Gary Lemco

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