Karl Boehm Conducts Mozart Symphonies, Vol. I

by | Jan 2, 2007 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Karl Boehm Conducts Mozart Symphonies, Vol. I

Program: MOZART: Symphony No. 29 in A, K. 201; Symphony No. 34 in C, K. 338; Symphony No. 35 in D, K. 385 “Haffner”; Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K. 550; Symphony No. 41 in C, K. 551 “Jupiter”; Bonus Track: Minuet, K. 409 – Vienna Philharmonic
Director: Hugo Kaech
Studio: DGG DVD B0006901-09
Video: 4:3 color
Audio: PCM Stereo, DTS 5.1
Length: 125 minutes + bonus track: 8 minutes
Rating: ****

Recorded at the Musikvereinsaal, Vienna 4-16 June 1973 and 12-14 November 1974, this assemblage of Mozart symphonies captures the refined, almost precision-made art of Karl Boehm (1894-1981), a leader of exemplary clarity and unsentimental vigor. Boehm always claimed that his enthusiasm for Mozart’s music emanated from his youthful exposure to the performances by Bruno Walter, whose Romantic style of Mozart interpretation, while not suited to Boehm’s more demure temperament, still provoked an unbridled commitment. Boehm’s conducting style offered only minimal gestures, and he belittled the conductor’s role as over-rated – saying that of all musical theaters only Bayreuth provided the proper conductor’s vehicle, since it rendered the conductor invisible!

The Mozart Symphony No. 29 in A (1774), given Boehm’s overly slow tempo for the opening Allegro moderato, become more galant in style than what Cantelli’s faster pace reveals of its spirited character. Boehm goes for elegance and etched balances in all parts, the Vienna strings, horns, and winds delicately nuanced, the instruments glimmering in Lighting Director Yngve Mansvik’s burnished vision. An exquisite polish permeates all of Mozart’s details. The G Minor Symphony, with its nervous sense of tragedy, occasionally elicits a left-hand swipe or palm-down subito from Boehm. Straightforward, with no sentimental lingering over Mozart’s periods, Boehm urges the music onward, the camera superimposing his baton onto the full stage, then cutting rapidly across the strings or from behind them to Boehm’s metronomic baton. Tragic architecture, if you will. The marcato in the middle movements maintains the serious restraint of the performance, though the camera exposes the beauty of Mozart’s part-writing for bassoons and flute. The last movement keeps Mozart’s fitful fever on a tight leash.

More festive sounds from the opening of Mozart’s C Major Symphony – the flutes, tympani, and trumpets in high definition. A melancholy beauty, autumnal in its way, permeates this rendition of the Allegro vivace. Happily, the intensity of the realization belies the clock-like mechanism in Boehm’s austere demeanor. As in the Andante of the G Minor Symphony, the Andante cantabile of the C Major evolves with regal breadth and clarity. Again, Boehm is content to let his baton hand do the work, the expressiveness confined within Mozart’s musical figures, not to anything histrionic in Boehm’s gestures. The Menuetto enjoys a spirited festivity, shot mostly through French horns, woodwinds, and cellos. 

A little more animation from Boehm in the trio section, when the second theme explodes off the woodwind riffs. The Molto Allegro – one of the miracles of music – begins as a heady march, and a long shot takes in the music from outside the theater’s entryway, then superimposes Boehm against active woodwinds and strings. Each line of the polyphony receives its proper cue, the intensity rising up to the oboe, then the contrapuntal intricacies commence anew. Careful attention to detail does not diminish the cumulative power of this reading, which proves quite stirring.

The Symphony No. 34 in C (1780) was the last symphony Mozart wrote in his Salzburg hometown. A warm glow suffuses the military pomp of the opening movement, with excellent coordination between strings and trumpets. The mood points to the opera Idomeneo. Quicksilver Mannheim rockets and swaggering arioso figures as the music achieves full tilt, no reduced orchestra here! Some of the twirling figures suggest the influence of Gluck. The Andante di molto and Finale: Allegro vivace sound effectively, spirited and elegant at once in polished Mozart style.

Symphony No. 35 in D (1782) is a Vienna product, as well as a tribute to the empfindsamkeit emotional style of C.P.E. Bach. Exuberant verve characterizes the whole conception, with big, slashing lines, rocket strings, and sudden chromatic leaps. The Andante is a camera study of Boehm himself, with oboe accompaniment. The strings play with the tip of the bow, then a broad arco line for the Vienna legato sound. The Menuetto and Presto move with staid vigor. Boehm always delineates the long line, Mozart’s often bold strokes, set down in one fervent rush of energy. Pomp and rugged elasticity for the Presto, with oboe and strings cantering, then flying to a witty and hearty conclusion.

— Gary Lemco

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