Four Great Pianists in Mozart Concertos = Kempff, Anda, Casadesus, Foldes – Golden Melodram

by | May 24, 2006 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Four Great Pianists in Mozart Concertos = MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat Major, K. 482; Piano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453; Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor, K. 491; Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, K. 503 – Wilhelm Kempff, piano/ Hessian Radio Symphony Orchestra/ Karl Bohm (K. 482)/ Geza Anda, piano/ Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra/ Joseph Keilberth (K. 453)/ Robert Casadesus, piano/ Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra/ George Szell (K. 491)/ Andor Foldes, piano/ Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra/ Wolfgang Sawallisch (K. 503)

Golden Melodram GM 4.0078, (2 CDs) 65:37; 58:38 (Distrib. Albany) ****:

I suppose the premise for this historic reissue is Mozart’s 250th Anniversary year, since the performances range 1953 to 1960 and include a variegated assemblage of Mozart players. Of the four stellar pianists, perhaps the least familiar to collectors is still Andor Foldes (1913-1992), a Hungaraton and DGG artist who recorded extensively the Beethoven sonatas and solo pieces, including a still unreissued Choral Fantasy with Fritz Lehmann that was long my personal favorite. His 1955 interpretation with Sawallisch of the huge C Major Concerto from Cologne has scale and refinement. The flurry of running scales and Mannheim rockets is smooth, the pedal point on G dramatic then lyrical, as each of the concerto’s affects in the Allegro maestoso takes its rightful place in the order of presentation. Nice collaboration of oboe and flute in the elaboration with the piano of the dolce theme.

Foldes, like Kempff and Anda, the so-called “troubadours of the piano,” could command a pearly, light, music-box sonority. Listen to this effect as played against Mozart’s bassoon part. The cadenza is both florid and entertaining, breaking off suddenly so that Sawallisch can display his own sense of timing. Lovely interplay between winds and piano for the Andante, which at times becomes a vivid quintet with horns. A slightly slower, more marcato tempo for the final Allegretto (Rondo) than is Gieseking’s wont with Rosbaud, but the imperiousness of the writing remains intact. A wonderful leggierissimo from Foldes, who keeps the proceedings brilliant, light, cannily fluid. Ceremonial and heraldic, the concerto provides a perfect vehicle for the restrained bravura of which Foldes was the consummate incarnation.

I have several times commented on my affection for the artistry of Geza Anda (1921-1976), an aristocrat among pianists on several levels. Curiously, I learned K. 453 from a recording with Rudolf Serkin and George Szell; then I owned its first inscription ever, with Erno von Dohnanyi and the Hungarian State Orchestra.  From Cologne 1953, a poetic piano part from Anda collaborates with the sparkling diplomacy from Joseph Keilberth, a rare moment of orchestral accompaniment from the opera conductor. Perhaps the most lyrically witty of the cycle of Mozart piano concertos, the G Major allows the woodwinds to croon and to chirp alternately as the frolic sings and muses, by turns. Clarion non-legato passages from Anda complement the exuberantly smooth surface he can create when required. Wonderful interior pulsation, almost a Viennese lilt with a touch of mystery, urges the opening Allegro forward. The Andante, a song in the stile brise (broken style) of C.P.E. Bach, throbs with intimacy from the woodwinds, the flute, oboe and bassoon’s forming their own sinfonia. The dark coloring after the piano entry takes us into a Masonic world no Dan Brown novel can capture. The light heart that sails through the concluding Allegretto, presto movement is the same who conceived of the buffo Papageno. A vivacious theme and variations with divertimento woodwind writing, the movement suggests what Anda could have accomplished in works like Mozart’s Duport Variations, K. 573.  Warning: there is a dropout at 4:46 of this movement for 3 seconds, spoiling an otherwise peerless effort.

Wilhelm Kempff (1895-1991) appears in a 1953 Frankfurt concert of the Hessian Symphony Orchestra under Karl Bohm, a noted Mozart conductor–he performed Mozart’s operas 515 times–from his early days in Dresden. Bohm’s strong personality shines through in the E-flat Concerto, where Kempff finds his own assertive voice about midway into the opening Allegro, with its own allusions to The Marriage of Figaro. The martial theme and variations features some excellent flute work to accompany Kempff’s elegant trill.  The last movement Allegro–Rondo combines swagger and pointed lyrical beauty, especially in the extended trio section. Kempff’s pearly play and the lucid contribution of the woodwinds seem divinely coordinated. The aggressive cadenza combines martial and playful elements, a microcosm of this great concerto, which well served its composer as a vehicle for his own keyboard gifts.

Robert Casadesus (1899-1972) made something of a specialty of the C Minor Concerto, although he had eleven of the Mozart concertos in his active repertory. With George Szell and the Cologne Radio Symphony in 1960, Casadesus joins with the conductor with whom he inscribed his CBS commercial recording. A grim determinism is at play here, the five-note fate motifs running through the first movement like Poe’s Red Death. Swoon-inducing work from the Cologne woodwinds, as Casadesus answers them in the manner of a plainchant, then breaks out into a fever of flourishes. The alternation of colossal, chromatic frenzy to simple piety proves ravishing, poignantly tragic. After a Larghetto of disarming simplicity, the Allegretto enters with a tiger’s fury, a theme and variations whose emotional countenance tolerates little consolation. The few chirpings from the woodwinds only provoke the piano to more speed, more assertion of its will. The last two statements become a piano toccata, cadenza, and ironic dismissal of metaphysical negotiation, a savage shaking of the fist Mozart might have copied from Beethoven.

–Gary Lemco