Karl Boehm Conducts Mozart Symphonies, Vol. II

by | Jan 8, 2007 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Karl Boehm Conducts Mozart Symphonies, Vol. II

Program: Symphony No. 36 in C Major, K. 425 “Linz”; Symphony No. 1 in E-flat Major, K. 16; Symphony No. 25 in G Minor, K. 183; Symphony No. 31 in D Major, K. 297 “Paris”; Symphony No. 38 in D Major, K. 504 “Prague”; Bonus Track: Serenade in G Major, K. 525 “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik”
Performers: Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Studio: DGG DVD B0006902-09
Video: Color 4:3
Sound: DTS 5.1, PCM Stereo
Length: 110 minutes; bonus: 20 minutes
Rating: ****

Taped between 12-14 November 1974 and 9-17 May 1978 at the Musikvereinsaal, Vienna, this installment of Mozart symphonies extends conductor Karl Boehm’s stylistic legacy, even to including the earliest standard entry, the three movement E-flat Major work from the composer’s youth, from 1764. The concerts open with a vigorous, fast-paced Linz Symphony (1783), sans repeats. Even given Boehm’s anti-sentimental approach, the music still resonates with gorgeously warm affect in the Andante. The burnished strings of the VPO receive their full share of camera attention from director Hugo Kaech. Boehm’s baton beat in the finale is barely perceptible, shades of Fritz Reiner. A raised eyebrow or slight facial grimace must suffice where flaying arms would characterize other conductors’ emotionality. When Boehm really gets involved, he will move his head from side to side. The playing of the VPO is heated but metronomically intact; once the basic pulse is established, the flow is strictly Swiss watch predictable. The coda does elicit some left hand energy from Boehm, especially Mozart’s wonderful capacity to vary the accents.

The Symphony No. 1, corrected by Mozart’s own father in London, is a series of Mannheim clichés connected together via J.C. Bach into a sinfonia or three-part concert overture. Bass fiddles and clarinets are kept busy, the figures Italianate and repetitive. As elegantly realized by the VPO, the music proves more than passable as talent with some intensity in it. The G Minor Symphony (1773) follows, a composition from Salzburg which embraces Mozartian Storm and Stress sensibilities. Boehm puts his shoulders into the chromatic opening movement, the first of Mozart’s excursions into a minor key. The oboe comes out of the welter of emotions, a sad song before the surging tide rises up anew. The development section already marks a musical moment of development, which even in its relatively abbreviated extension, previews aspects of Beethoven. Lovely, clear delicacy in the textures of the Andante. If the Menuetto is a bit staid and pesant to my taste, the contrapuntal Allegro finale has mystery and passion, a seriousness close to the Masonic music Mozart composed later in his career.

The so-called Paris Symphony (1778) represented something brand new for Mozart at the time, a vivacious facility in symphonic writing that he asserted would dazzle the Paris audience. Mannheim rockets abound, but so too do marvelous arioso passages combined in a sonically grand conception, full of confidence. Minimal gestures from Boehm, but the coda does bring the pulse back into his veins, his right, baton arm reaching deep into the orchestra for maximum effect. French horn and strings urge the Andante along, which proceeds in crisp, even gingerly, steps. The counter subject in flute and strings bears the soul of courtly grace. The final Allegro begins a mite restrained for my taste, but the bravura spirit soon overcomes even Boehm’s demure style, the violins sawing away. The secondary theme is a gallop of energy that itself yields to another risoluto impulse. Flute in sweet counterpoint for the development section. Despite the large sound here in Mozart, the camera work gives us a chamber music ambiance, intimate festivity.

The big work on this sequence of Mozart is the Prague Symphony (1787), the symphonic kin to The Marriage of Figaro. Here, I think Bruno Walter’s lyric example must have held a place in Boehm’s undemonstrative heart. Broad, swinging phrases, the elastic line, the high color and pomp, all resonate with that special Viennese sweetness with which Walter simmered his Mozart. After the slow introduction, the woodwinds and pulsating strings take off in intricate harmony, a real bravura exhibition. Even without the first movement repeat, the scale of the music is large, a constant dynamo of spirited invention. The Andante is a warm, lyrical miracle that resists any cool objectivity, even Boehm’s. Happily, the Presto enjoys a fervent velocity that quite sweeps away emotional restraint, the bassoon perhaps having the last word on the subject. Along with a polished rendition of A Little Night Music as a bonus, this DVD makes a formidable video collection of Mozart for any connoisseur.

— Gary Lemco

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