Carl Schuricht: Lucerne Festival = MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat Major, K. 595; BRAHMS: Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73 – Robert Casadesus, piano/ Swiss Festival Orchestra/ Vienna Philharmonic – Audite 95.645, 68:21 (5/19/17) [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
Grand music-making defines these two concerts led by veteran Carl Schuricht.
The appearance of Carl Schuricht (1880-1967) on the podium has always captivated my attention, for his style combined a rigorous fidelity to the score with a strong, personal sense of free expressivity. Schuricht’s seamless sense of transition rather aligned him with Furtängler and Knappertsbusch rather than with the Weingartner or Toscanini approach. In fact, the very-paradoxical-elusiveness of the Schuricht style lies in its balance between academic familiarity with the score and his imposition of rhythmic and dynamic suasion, as if the discussion had gravitated to a consideration of his temperamental opposite, Celibidache.
For the concert of 19 August 1961, Schuricht leads the Swiss Festival Orchestra and guest pianist Robert Casadesus (1899-1972) in Mozart’s last piano concerto, the B-flat Major, K. 595, with its own valedictory sensibility. The complete serenity in this performance doubtless arises from the sheer security of style brought about by two veterans’ long experience with the music and with each other. Schuricht does not generate the nervous energy of Mitropoulos, who also performed this work with Casadesus. Instead, the organic matrix of themes of the opening Allegro sails forward and upward in a graceful interplay of melody and dramatic key-changes, noblesse and buffa. Casadesus could be startlingly brisk in Mozart concertos — as in his collaborations with George Szell — but here Casadesus chooses to provide animation informed by tender care for the ornaments, runs, and calculated filigree that suffuses this magnificent concerto.
The 1877 D Major Symphony of Brahms (8 September 1962) finds Schuricht with his responsive Vienna Philharmonic, documenting a remarkably warm reading that we might ascribe to Bruno Walter or Istvan Kertesz. Yet the aesthetic distance proclaims an objectivity different from their approach. The notable cello line, along with esteemed passages for winds and horns, resonate with a glow that informs us that Brahms welcomed the sun into his sensibility but with full knowledge of impending clouds. Though Schuricht has an elderly man’s physical body, he avoids over-compensating with unreasonable tempos. The stormy section of the Adagio non troppo — the longest of the Brahms slow symphonic movements — does become blatantly threatening, but the winds and low strings concede to the spirit of guarded optimism.
The Allegretto has to be one of the most cultivated, etched renditions in my experience — such care in the woodwind articulation. The transition to Presto ma non assai occurs so lithely — as were the metric shifts in the first movement — we hardly know how we came to a new emotional vista. And the diminuendo Schuricht applies at the da capo entry of the Allegretto grazioso endears this long-familiar music to us once more. Hushed, unhurried, the Allegro con spirito just waits to explode in the face of Hugo Wolf’s cold assertion that “Brahms cannot exult.” Suddenly, a grand leisure overtakes the main melody, rich in wind vibrancy and horn support. The music achieves a colossal vitality and agile quickness of string pizzicato and rushing, dotted figures that pause for some summer dalliance, prior to the martial sensibility that breaks forth. Though Brahms subsumes his emotions under a strict sonata-form, Schuricht realizes the motives with an almost rhapsodic indulgence. The line assumes a sense of inexorable, emblazoned progression opulent and focused at once. The extended coda testifies to a complete, ennobled meeting of kindred spirits, each passionate in his own way. The audience would seem to concur.