Lili Kraus = MOZART: Piano Concerto Nos. 20 & 9; Clarinet Trio; Piano Quintet; Adagio and Rondo for Glass Harmonica; BACH: Capriccio – Doremi (2 CDs)

by | Jul 9, 2011 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Lili Kraus = MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466; Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat Major, K. 271; Clarinet Trio in E-flat Major, K. 498; Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, K. 452; Adagio and Rondo for Glass Harmonica, Flute, Oboe, Viola, and Cello, K. 617; BACH: Capriccio on the Departure of His Beloved Brother, BWV 992; 22 Keyboard Miniatures – Lili Kraus, piano/Chamber Orchestra of the Vienna Konzerthaus/Willi Boskovsky/ Francois Etienne, clarinet/Pierre Pasquier, viola (K. 498)/Pierre Perlot, oboe/Jacques Lancelot, clarinet/ Paul Hongne, bassoon/Gilbert Coursier, horn (K. 452)/ Jean-Pierre Rampal, flute/Pierre Perlot, oboe /Paul Hongne, bassoon/Pierre Pasquier, viola/Etienne Pasquier, cello (K. 617) – Doremi DHR-7929/30, (2 CDs) 80:19; 74:57 [Distr. By Allegro] ****:
Hungarian pianist Lili Kraus (1903-1986), much revered for her Mozart expertise, finds an excellent revival in these two discs, transferred from Les Discophiles Francais and Educo sources (in Bach) taped in the mid-1950s.  Kraus received her training from eminent pedagogues, including Artur Schnabel, Bela Bartok, Eduard Steuermann, Zoltan Kodaly, and Severin Eisenberger. With violinist Henri Temianka in the 1950s, she surveyed the complete Beethoven Violin Sonatas, a feat Temianka had performed prior with Leonard Shure in 1946 at the Library of Congress.  Kraus did record two Mozart concertos with Pierre Monteux in Boston for RCA, of which No. 18 in B-flat Major, was particularly poignant.
Kraus has for her Mozart concertos conductor Willi Boskovsky (1909-1991), who for many years served as concertmaster of the Vienna Philharmonic and led the Philharmonic in various festivals, including New Year’s Concerts.  The D Minor Concerto under Boskovsky moves at a rapidly gracious clip, with nice details in the woodwinds, and Kraus does not rush her part. The piano reproduction equipment must be forward at the microphones, since some of the orchestral filigree seems relatively distant. The Kraus approach is linear, virile, and unmannered, the phrases rounded and always careful to delineate the musical point in ascending and descending scales.  Her bass line can be explosive, not at all “effeminate.” She employs the Beethoven cadenzas in the D Minor Concerto. The Romanza offers at first a pure soul of demure beauty, while the vehement middle section plumbs the depths without any loss of her plastic line. Exuberance and vitality–the Kraus epithets in passim in all reviews–mark her final Rondo: Allegro assai, in which she and Boskovsky seem to compete for which musical force can provide the more fleetly emphatic statements.
No dawdling in the E-flat Concerto--in fact, rarely have I heard so brisk a pace set for the opening Allegro–it makes the much-respected Myra Hess versions seem placid by contrast. Kraus, nevertheless, executes the ornamental keyboard part with deft finesse and loving fluency, a totally Viennese affect. The sheer volatility of the keyboard runs makes us admire and wonder at once, an effect thoroughly in keeping with the work’s original intent. The mysterious Andantino points to the darker regions in Mozart’s passionate experience, and Kraus and Boskovsky create a delicately nuanced fabric in which tragedy and redemption seem indistinguishable. Quicksilver vitality courses through the veins of the Rondeau: Presto, an exercise in high digital spirits and deft harmonic modulations. The huge “digression” of the middle section introduces us to a world unique in Mozart, except perhaps in moments from his explicitly Masonic compositions. That Kraus makes Mozart’s ornaments and trills totally felicitous and structurally organic remains a minor miracle in keyboard art.
Lili Kraus found excellent chamber music collaborators among the French musicians with whom she recorded for Les Discophiles Francais. The 1786 Kegelstatt Trio is by nature a contemplative work, opening as it does with an Andante in 6/8 without repeats. While Francois Etienne’s clarinet enjoys a distinctly clear articulate tone, it is Pierre Pasquier’s vibrant viola that often commands our ear. The B-flat Major Menuetto has an insistent, martial piano part that defies the traditional notion of a light-hearted dance movement. The viola triplets in the trio section enjoy a hearty sonority from Pasquier. The last movement–something rare in Mozart–is a seven-part Rondeaux that allows the clarinet to present the key ideas before the viola or clarinet proceeds with a variant of the ritornello tune. The concertante writing places the filigree quite within the context of Mozart’s writing for concertos and concert arias in the same creative period. The C Minor episode for viola and piano makes an especially appealing testament for this fine performance, despite some shatter at the top of the recording’s climaxes.
After a grandly slow introduction, the 1784 Piano Quintet takes off in bubbly short phrases that heighten the sheer cavalcade of woodwind colors that illuminate this excellent concertante work. The performance to which to compare this Lili Kraus version is the collaboration of Robert Casadesus with members of the Philadelphia Orchestra woodwind players. Kraus maintains a distinctly light but fluent hand on her entries, and her runs give us only pearls. Pierre Perlot’s oboe has to among the most nasal sounds I have heard on this instrument. The Larghetto sets the keyboard part both as soloist and accompanist, often allowing Gilbert Coursier’s French horn a serene legato moment. The prevailing mood, one of bittersweet nostalgia, casts an evening, sunset glow on the proceedings. The Rondo sports a cadenza for each of the five instrumentalists, so more than before Kraus becomes a virtuosic primus inter pares. The little coda’s pomp and circumstance ripples with pure charm.
The 1791 Adagio and Rondo for Glass Harmonica remains Mozart’s last chamber music piece, composed for the renowned virtuoso Maria Eva Theresia Kirchgessner. Its utterly transparent sonority now plays like a run-through for Tchaikovsky’s Sugar-Plum Fairy. The upward scales resonate with Papageno of The Magic Flute. The Rondo could well depict a band of multi-colored butterflies cavorting in a meadow.  With Jean-Pierre Rampal on flute, the performance has a guarantee that elfin spirits dominate.
The last forty minutes of disc two we spend with Lili Kraus and J.S. Bach, opening with the ubiquitous Minuet in G, BWV Anh. 114, a mid-level repertory piece of the kind the Educo label promoted. We have two G Minor Polonaises and one in E Major, just to demonstrate the range of dance movements in Bach’s canon. Two marches, one in D and one in E-flat, again from the Anh. Collection of Bach works. The E Minor Bouree from BWV 996 raises the harmonic ante considerably.  The charming Musette in D anticipates much of Mozart and Schubert. Kraus performs six of the Little Preludes, and the two in C Minor (BWV 999 and BWV 934) condense much passion into a small space. The C Major  BWV 933 finds in Kraus a kindred spirit to Glenn Gould, but a mite more legato.
The Polonaise from the French Suite No. 6 in E Minor enjoys a plastic line. Kraus plays only the C Major Prelude, BWV 846–not the fugue–but it glistens in the moonlight. The F Major Little Prelude that ensues is a brilliant bagatelle. The longest of these exquises is the Gavotte and Musette from English Suite No. 3, BWV 808, a contrapuntal study in lithe textures and graded dynamics. Kraus performs four of the Two-Part Inventions, of which the opening F Minor (BWV 780) offers the most compelling affect. The eternal F Major laughs and dances in a carefree yet strict rhetoric which inspired Mendelssohn, no less true for the pursuant A Minor (BWV 784).
Kraus concludes this group with an elegant rendition of the B-flat Major, BWV 785. The grand finale comes with Bach’s heavily programmatic Capriccio after Kuhnau, BWV 992, a staple of such virtuosos as Rudolf Serkin, Mieczyslaw Horszowski, and Rosalyn Tureck. The opening B-flat Major pleadings convert to G Minor and subsequent modulations to imagine the many pitfalls to distant travel. A series of descending sighs in F Minor conveys the anguish of departure, a moment of chaconne-like power that has its analogies in the chromatic works of Gesualdo. The fifth episode turns sorrow to anticipated joy: then we hear the postal carriage’s horn call, a downward leaping octave figure. The tour de force has Kraus play a double fugue based on the horn call that now serves as its own countersubject. The repeated notes of the horn-call motif occur in three voices as if all Heaven were resounding with deliverance in B-flat Major.
— Gary Lemco

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