Carl Schuricht and Clara Haskil perform BEETHOVEN = Prometheus Overture, Op. 43; Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58; Coriolan Overture, Op. 62; Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 36 – Clara Haskil, piano/ London Philharmonic/ Eduard van Beinum (Op. 36)/ Carlo Zecchi (Concerto)/ The National Sym. Orch./ Reginald Goodall (Coriolan)/ L’Orch. de la Suisse Romande/ Carl Schuricht (Op. 36) – Dutton CDBP 9819, 72:45 (5/6/13) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
Michael Dutton revives a clutch of Beethoven recordings, 1945-1947, as performed by several of the major interpreters of the period, including the legendary Romanian pianist Clara Haskil (1895-1960), who honed a select number of works to personal perfection. Charlie Chaplin once described her (1961) in the following terms: “her touch was exquisite, her expression wonderful, and her technique extraordinary.”
The concert opens with a lyrically suave rendition of the Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus (rec. 29 November 1946) by the London Philharmonic under Eduard van Beinum (1901-1959). Typical of Beinum’s lean unaffected style, the Overture moves fleetly and pungently in this previously unpublished inscription.
The 4 July 1947 reading of the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4 has Clara Haskil supported by the London Philharmonic under pianist and conductor Carlo Zecchi (1903-1984). Together, Haskil and Zecchi deliver a consistently restrained, elegantly tempered performance, one both technically secure and often intimately decorative. Even with the large forces of the LPO, the principals cast an aural image more suited to chamber or salon proportions. The fluency of Haskil’s runs and trills, her subito diminuendos, quite astonish in the seamlessness of execution. Yet, the innate power of Haskil’s projection can be overtly aggressive, as in her transition to the recapitulation in the first movement. The cadenza moves felicitously, marked by pregnant pauses and a subtle legato intertwined with brilliant runs, cascades, trills, and roulades. Few renditions ally this cadenza so clearly to the Mozart singing tradition.
Zecchi assumes a martial tone for the opening of the Andante con moto, all the more to have Haskil’s plaintive Orpheus subdue the maenads. The innate bel canto of Haskil’s limpid style blends with her often hazy palette to create a genuine sense of mystery as the music moves to the Rondo: Allegro. Simultaneously tender and brilliantly bravura, the last movement conveys illumined energy and dazzling, sometimes startling, momentum. If anyone exudes the “Aeolian Harp” element in this concerto, Haskil does, with a poetic facility that retains its youthful ardor in every measure.
The curio among these vintage performances must be the manic and driven Coriolan Overture (rec. 28 November 1945) with the National Symphony Orchestra under Reginald Goodall (1901-1990). Although British by birth, Goodall became a Germanophile to excess, often advocating pro-Nazi views and pro-Fascist sympathies. How the anti-imperialistic sensibilities of Beethoven suited Goodall we can only guess, since Wagner remained more to Goodall’s taste. But this Coriolan, despite some peremptory phrasing, moves with intensely explosive authority, and the string section enjoys a persuasive largesse of tone that makes even stentorian Beethoven sing passionately.
The Symphony No. 2 in D Major (rec. 14-18 February 1947) by Carl Schuricht (1880-1967) carries the alternately virtuoso and lyrical weight we associate with this gifted “maverick” among the major conductors of the Old School. The Suisse Romande responds to Schuricht with a fire and flair it rarely displays under its regular conductor, Ernest Ansermet. Fleet and dramatic, the first movement exhibits a supple athleticism, while the glorious Larghetto – Berlioz’s favorite movement in Beethoven – enjoys a luxuriant spaciousness and expressiveness that retains noble dignity without a moment of flaccid sentimentality. The Scherzo moves so impulsively it might appear glib, but the volatile accents and growling sforzati more than remind us that Beethoven has outgrown the Classical constraints of his time. The Finale, on the other hand, exhibits a grand leisure of expression – given its periodic explosions of tremolando ferocity – and a sureness of foot that even instrumental mountain-goats must envy. Eminently genial and convincing at once, the performance testifies to the sublime consensus Schuricht and this ensemble achieved over the course of many years of association.