BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37; MOZART: Piano Sonata in F Major, K. 332; Piano Sonata in C Major, K. 330; Rondo in A Minor, K. 511 – Wilhelm Backhaus, piano/Vienna Philharmonic/Karl Bohm – IDIS 6609; 69:06 [Distr. By Qualiton] ****:
The German pianist Wilhelm Backhaus (1884-1969) finds a bit of resurrection in these 1950 and 1961 “remasterings” (from LPs) of Decca studio originals of music by Beethoven and Mozart. Always a searching and sober artist, Backhaus rarely played “to the gallery,” favoring relatively brisk tempos and an explosive sense of sonority that often involved his use of unorthodox cadenzas in Beethoven concertos. An Italianate lyricism pervades Backhaus’ playing despite his Germanic training and sensibility. I find the microphone placement somewhat distant, emphasizing the dialogue between Backhaus and VPO winds and strings, with a fainter clarity in the brass and tympani parts. With the able assistance of veteran colleague Karl Bohm–you can see them perform the Beethoven G Major Concerto last movement on YouTube–Beethoven’s innate architecture receives its due, along with the alternatively songlike and dramatic elements, of which the C Minor Concerto remains the first to achieve a total balance in the composer’s oeuvre. The ornamentally-exciting cadenza to the first movement has all the earmarks of a Busoni transcription, cross-fertilized by the layered syncopations of Godowsky. Thoughtfully meditative, the E Major Largo well conveys the Backhaus capacity for refined poetic expression, assisted by a broadly compassionate lyricism from the VPO flute and strings. The aggressive drive of the final Rondo: Allegro finds a softer side in Backhaus’ colorful palette of suavely delivered colors, and the VPO winds add a delicate spice all its own. Bohm’s penchant for orchestral clarity emerges in the fughetta, a stormy affair that garners plastic elucidations from Backhaus. Intelligent and passionate, the collaboration makes a fine addition to the historic collectors’ catalogue.
The Mozart recordings derive from 1961 sessions and extend Backhaus’ repute as potent and articulate purveyor of that Classical master’s style. The 1783 F Major Sonata proceeds rather quickly, the harmonic shifts moving in a blur of long lines and aggressive ornaments passionately applied, perhaps too much “Beethoven” in this Mozart. Backhaus’ playing in the upper registers, however, is the soul of transparency and grace. The B-flat Major Adagio offers a series of elegant turns and passing trills on an Alberti or Galuppi ostinato pattern, the end of the aria a sentiment that Cherubino would express. The knotty agogics of the 6/8 Allegro assai daunt Backhaus not at all; and he measures the various forte demands Mozart makes with some softening pedal effects, though his staccati punch out their effects resolutely. A decisive masculine rendition this,whose finale in a pianissimo cadence only confirms the potent intellect behind the notes. The C Major–a stable of such pianists as Clara Haskil–thoroughly enjoys a briskly, even breathlessly, transparent approach that takes the transitions between C Major and G Major with emblazoned gestures and sweeping momentum. The expressive Andante cantabile–a twenty-bar melody–receives a forceful as well lyrical realization, one whose inwardness indulges in some harmonic audacities subtly inserted in passing dissonances. Both the Andante and the concluding Allegretto are missing endings in Mozart’s autograph score, so “best guesses” supply the required codas. Backhaus flies through the dotted eighth figures of the Allegretto clearly and insistently. The movement becomes a crystalline toccata under Backhaus, and that definitely works in this uncompromising sensibility.
The 1787 Rondo in A Minor anticipates the Romanticism of Chopin in several respects, as in its dark sensibility and the five-note kernel from which the contrasting material derives. Backhaus projects a moodily virile reading of the work, which even in its intimate moments seems rife with personal anguish. This emotionally resonant piece has appealed to pianists of varying perspectives, like Rubinstein, Schnabel, and Brendel. Elegantly resigned and multifarious in color at once, the piece makes a fitting conclusion for a fine recital whose original tapes warrant a legitimate and not a spurious duplication. A real coup would be to restore the 1950-1952 Backhaus survey–in mono sound–of the complete Beethoven sonatas.
— Gary Lemco