Friedrich Gulda, Zum 80: For His 80th Birthday = BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Op. 15; Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58; 4 Bagatelles from Op. 126 – Vienna Symphony Orchestra/Friedrich Gulda piano and conductor – Music & Arts

by | Jul 14, 2010 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Friedrich Gulda, Zum 80: For His 80th Birthday = BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Op. 15; Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58; 4 Bagatelles from Op. 126 – Vienna Symphony Orchestra/Friedrich Gulda, piano and conductor

Music & Arts CD-1239. 78:40 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Pianist Friedrich Gulda (1930-2000), who would have been eighty-years-old now, still evokes the image of the enfant terrible in music, the prodigiously gifted young artist who chose in his last ten years of life to rail against musical and classical convention, integrating jazz and crossover styles into his concerts, which evolved into “happenings” for ear and eye. In his early recording career, to which this Music & Arts disc pays tribute, Gulda assumed the mantle of Edwin Fischer and Rudolf Ganz, conducting Beethoven concertos from the keyboard (22 January 1953) with a bold sparkling line of muscular clarity.

The close miking of the Beethoven C Major Concerto adds to a sturdy impression of brilliant ensemble and improvisation in an extroverted Classical style. Beethoven’s bold, martial figures find their foil in effervescent runs and pearly trills, supported by strong support in the Vienna Symphony woodwinds. Gulda plays Beethoven’s long cadenza, the third written for this showpiece concerto, and it moves with a sturdy breadth that is as explosive as it is “improvised.”  The hard patina of the keyboard propels the figures both forward and vertically, the technique consummate as the gradations of sound adjust for expressive weight and lyric drama. Gulda takes the A-flat Major Largo at a slow tempo, rather savoring the string undulations that often ring with ariosi attributable to Mozart and Haydn. Gulda’s own line extends a beautifully graded cantilena, thoughtful, patient, and lyrically fluent. His legato playing over the string pizzicati proves particularly memorable. Brisk tempos for the last movement Rondo: Allegro scherzando retain the elegant balance of poetry and bravura, the fiery passages thrown off in a nonchalant hail of runs and blithe staccato notes that ring with pearly flavor long after the last chords have sounded.

The liquid G Major Concerto exemplifies Gulda’s lyrically controlled rubato while exerting a taut line on the melodic contour of the most Aeolian of piano concertos.  The fiery cadenza provides a poignant, dramatic foil to the rolling arpeggios that constitute so much of the expository materials. The Andante Gulda urges forward at another brisk tempo, perhaps sacrificing some of its mystery; though his slowing down at the strong pizzicato from the strings insinuates the more exotic elements in Beethoven’s harmony. The Rondo enjoys a plastic rhythmic flux, the supporting strings and winds exhilarated by Gulda’s lightning attacks and subtle variations in metric pulse. The occasional accelerando from Gulda exhibits blinding speed and digital acumen of virtuoso caliber; and this bravura infiltrates the cadenza, especially when Gulda plays both accelerando e pianissimo. The last pages, both limpid and dramatic, ripple with enough exalted nervous energy to bring the audience to its collective feet.

The four Bagatelles assembled from Op. 126: Nos. 1, 2, 3, 5 derive from venues Sao Paulo (19 April 1956), Quito (No. 5; 10 April 1956), and Bergamo (No. 3; 9 February 1959).  Searching measures color No. 1 in G Major while a wicked toccata sensibility marks No. 2 in G Minor. We feel Beethoven’s experiments are vertical as well as linear, the suddenly jagged flecks of melody clashing against each other like rocks meant to keep Jason away from the Golden Fleece.  A moment of spiritual repose enters in E-flat Major, the resonant Andante a lyric worthy to be placed into some more lengthy context.  The G Major offers a reconciliation of elements, contemplative and lyrical, almost a barcarolle inspirational of Beethoven’s successors Mendelssohn and Chopin.

–Gary Lemco