BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37; Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92 – Geza Anda, piano/ Cologne Radio-Sym. Orch./ Vienna Philharmonic Orch./ Hans Knappertsbusch – Tahra TAH 762, 77:00 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
The opportunity to hear the late Geza Anda (1921-1976) in concert with Hans Knappertsbusch (1888-1965) in the Beethoven 1803 Third Concerto from Cologne (14 May 1962) should motivate a line of collectors who relish exquisite music-making both brilliant and intellectually vigorous. Anda, of course, to whom Furtwaengler refers as “the troubadour of the piano,” projects an almost magical charisma even in recordings, and especially here, within the grand scope of the C Minor Concerto’s first movement. We have the massive middle-period architecture in the first concerto in which Beethoven balances lyric and dramatic elements, a real theater of contesting forces in which the keyboard functions as both percussive declaimer and singing Aeolian Harp. The fragmentary themes, triads, and falling scales all converge into a meaningful whole; and in Anda’s hands, a luminous and delicately etched chandelier of suspended diamonds. Anda’s cadenza projects more intimacy than spectacular bravura, ushering in the tympani with a graduated trill of colossal seduction.
The E Major chord with which Anda enters the Largo already contains the contrary elements that define the music’s progress, restive yet serenely confident in its elastic song. The piano takes a humble position while the flute, bassoon, and pizzicato strings exchange sonorities over and through the keyboard’s strummed chords on a sustained pedal point. Beethoven will utilize aspects of the C Minor triad and the G-sharp to launch his vigorous exercises in the last movement, often contrapuntal, that keys on A-flat, an enharmonic in-joke that binds the composition more tightly together. Knappertsbusch, already noted, or “infamous,”for his penchant for slow tempos in Wagner, does not lag or drag the music in any of the three movements. Rather, he invests a broad but transparent power into Beethoven’s figures that clearly complement Anda’s pellucid and majestic contribution. Having commercially recorded the last two Beethoven concertos with Curzon and Backhaus, we can relish this marvelous collaboration with Anda in the formal Knappertsbusch Beethoven canon.
A dearth of Knappertsbusch Beethoven symphonies exists on record, Italian Radio’s having destroyed tapes of a Beethoven Ninth and a Pastoral. The present performance of the Seventh Symphony derives from a concert in Vienna 17 January 1954. Knappertsbusch and Vienna went back a long way: he led his first program in Vienna at the Wiener Tonkuenstler Orchester on 14 March, 1923. He literally interrupts the audience applause to signal the first bars of the Poco sostenuto, a lyrically arched rendition that seems to have a life of its own, especially as the undercurrent of potent energy rises from the tympani, strings, and the woodwinds. The multifarious repeats on E become hallucinogenic, until the Vivace breaks out, sweeping, in dotted rhythms and some old-fashioned portamentos. If anyone can turn a pedal point in Beethoven into an intimation of Bruckner, it is Knappertsbusch. The slow transitions again illuminate Beethoven’s inexorable sense of structure, even at the risk of over-dramatizing the melodic periods.
We know that the A Minor Allegretto movement took on its own identity and popularity, despite Virgil Thomson’s characterizing it as “the most tragic music Beethoven ever wrote.” The signal motto theme and its close kinship to the Death and the Maiden Quartet of Schubert provides another example of the appeal of Beethoven’s haunted ostinato figures, the divided strings having entered into a double-theme and variations structure, tinctured later by strict fugal procedure. The broad rendition Knappertsbusch realizes will likely remind many auditors of the Furtwaengler moments of equally estimable grandeur, an epic reading that manages not to exceed itself and devolve into self-indulgence.
A bit marcato, the F Major Scherzo does not quite breeze along but rather builds to a dramatic surge that ebbs and flows not so spontaneously, but ineluctably. The Trio in D Major has more of the pilgrims’ hymn in it than ordinary, perhaps too inflated – almost static – for some tastes. The finale projects that same monumentality if not thoroughly drunken abandon that warranted Wagner’s labeling the music “the apotheosis of the dance.” A slight but pummeling ritard permeates the swelling of the figures, though none may deny their whirlwind intensity. When the coda does emerge out of the menacing Dionysiac tympani and horns, the effect proves shattering, as the thunderous applause from Vienna will attest.