MOZART: Symphony No. 35 in D Major, K. 385 “Haffner”; Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K. 550; Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466 – Rudolf Serkin, piano/Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy/London Philharmonic Orchestra/ Eduard van Beinum (k. 385)/Erich Kleiber (K. 550)
Pristine Audio PASC151 (XR version), 67:57 [www.pristineclassical.com] ****:
This rather intriguing amalgam of Mozart performances, 1949-1951, opens with a spirited, virile inscription (1 May 1950) of the Haffner Symphony from the London Philharmonic under Eduard van Beinum (1901-1959). The re-processing via XR technology provides us a warm, spacious sound, especially in Mozart’s interior instrumentation, like the relation between oboe, bassoon, and strings, with a wizard onrush of Mannheim rockets in the first movement, whose sturm und drang elements seem drawn directly from the work of C.P.E. Bach. The crispness of attack works wonders in the Minuetto and Trio, a crackling, inflected reading both stately and sanguine. We can feel the loving hands of Beinum shaping the eminently Viennese phrases in the Trio section. The last movement is all bustle, brilliantly done, with a palpable, tympanic presence to undergird the absolutely bravura string work that never misses a gliding or sudden accent. Originally produced for London Decca, this performance sets a standard that passes any test for pungency of execution and tasteful, even inspired, conformity to the Mozart style.
Increasingly, the artistry and personal integrity of conductor Erich Kleiber (1890-1956) compel my respect; and we must all lament his parsimony when it came to the making of records. His G Minor Symphony of Mozart (25 April 1949) celebrates its 60th birthday as an aesthetic epitome of Viennese style and depth of musical understanding. The balances of phrase and dynamic flexion astound us, especially as the woodwinds and strings carry the dark weight of Mozart’s most tragic symphony. The tempo is not slow, but the weight of the secondary strings and sheer intensity of expression maintain the impression of huge periods sustained through an irresistible unity of affect. The fulcrum of emotional energy goes to the Andante, a stirring movement of steady pulsation that assumes striking variety in the course of its consistency. Several of its expressive, harmonically daring lines more than hint at composer’s own Masonic Funeral Music. A somber, haunted Minuetto and Trio, the divided particularly sonorous. The Trio manages an unstained world before The Fall, the woodwinds almost sylvan in their message of Nature’s balm for the wounded soul. A whirlwind Finale: Presto, due not so much to speed of execution but the plastic, fervid intensity of line and the highly expressive polish of the individual, instrumental voices. The tripping figure that bursts into contrapuntal mastery quite beguiles and delights the mind, at once. A breathtaking G Minor by any standard.
While Eugene Ormandy (1899-1985) never commanded my respect as an interpreter in the same league with Beinum and Kleiber, his association with a powerful soloist, like Rudolf Serkin (1903-1991), would spur some excellent, energized results. This D Minor Concerto (11 February 1951) was issued as a single LP by American Columbia, and the brightness of the re-mastered sound instantly proves attractive. Serkin’s playing is the soul of percussive clarity, bright, optimistic, lithe in runs and staccati, and Serkin’s trill was always a law unto itself. At his poetic best, Serkin projects a silver, muscular line that rings with pearly or steely character, depending on his febrile mood. The sweeping onrush of string tone from the Philadelphia Orchestra possesses its own visceral excitement. If the demonic figures occasionally venture into Beethoven’s realm, the transition seems natural enough, given that Serkin plays Beethoven‘s spectacular cadenzas.
The Romanza may strike some listeners as a bit heavy-handed in the orchestral part; certainly the diaphanous ethos that marks the Gieseking/Rosbaud inscription for EMI is absent. But Serkin carries much velvet around those iron fists, and each phrase is chiseled in soft marble. As per expectation, the passionate middle section–with its wondrous dialogues between piano and bassoon and driving strings–assaults us with those musical furies Mozart took from Gluck’s Orfeo. More explosive Philadelphia magic for the Finale: Allegro assai, with another Beethoven cadenza to confirm Mozart’s undaunted excursion into the mouth of a volcano. That the music does move from Don Giovanni’s D Minor to a sunnier D Major does not mollify the bravura impulses that drive a superheated performance, concluding a most satisfactory, eclectic program of essential Mozart from a living past. Recommended.