MOZART Symphony no. 40. MAHLER Kindertotenlieder. R. STRAUSS Also sprach Zarathustra • Karl Böhm, cond; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (bar); Berlin PO • TESTAMENT 1489 (2 CDs: 86:27)
Has concert programming improved since the so-called Golden Age? I was wondering this when confronted with this interesting but truly lopsided concert from the 1962 Salzburg Festival, released complete onRead more Testament for the first time. I don’t think anyone would conceive of such a mash-up now, a trio of utterly disparate works, moods, and eras. Mozart and Strauss can make fine contrasting bed fellows, and Strauss and Mahler, although utterly different in temperament, require much the same forces, but the Kindertotenlieder after Mozart’s 40th Symphony does feel twisted, although many will sneer that Karl Böhm makes Mozart sound like Mahler.
Yes, this is Mozart of the old guard: slow, big-boned, and lusciously stringed. The first movement maybe be taken at almost half the speed we are used to now, but the pacing is surefooted and strongly phrased, allowing the glorious wind playing to shine. The tread is heavy but propulsive, and such a dignified, stately approach sets up the melancholy of the Andante effectively. Where the performance falls apart is in a turgid third movement, a lack of momentum that is not saved by a lighter touch in the finale. This is not how I usually want my Mozart to go, but we have thrown out so much with today’s skittish period performance movement—warmth, grace, and a singing line to phrases—that it seems unhealthy not to venture into post-war classical playing from time to time. There are other, better examples of Böhm’s Mozart, not least his complete symphony cycle for DG, but there is a fuss-free sincerity to the Berliners’ sound here, as well as flexibility.
Flexibility is in fact key to the whole concert here, and it is a shame Böhm was so allergic to Mahler, as his way with the Kindertotenlieder is beautifully balanced, the nerve endings exposed, but all brought together with glistening tone. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau is at his peak here, with rapt phrasing and awe-inspiring extremes of dynamics. They would record this cycle for DG the following April, but I have to say the faster performance on Testament has the upper hand, as Fischer-Dieskau and Böhm take risks and have an interplay that eludes the fine but scrupulously thought-out studio performance.
Despite his stately reputation in other repertoire Böhm generally took his Strauss at quite a lick, as is the case here. There are better, cleaner versions out there, but this is a thrilling Also sprach Zarathustra, the brass confident and mainly blemish-free, the opening timpani cutting and menacing. That this vast score comes across so well in such basic broadcast sound is proof of Böhm’s wonderful ear for orchestral balance and textures. Again, we are beginning to move away from such sentiment and warmth in current Strauss performance; the sugar-sweet string vibrato would be curbed now, and the fluctuations of tempo would be more measured, but unruly and from the heart, this is surely as authentic as Strauss can get.
For that alone the album is worth buying, even though Testament’s archival finds aren’t often sensible first-choice recordings, and this jumble of pieces still remains of interest chiefly to the historical collector, to whom this can be warmly recommended. The mono sound is still a little narrow and constricted but basically well balanced, and the accompanying essay gives a superb overview of concert’s place in performance history. I’m glad somebody cares about Karl Böhm now, even if Testament shows up his failings as well as glories here. There is a lot to like and learn from pre-Gardiner Mozart, and conductors ignore Böhm’s Strauss at their peril. If nothing else, this quirky find is a fascinating glimpse at what the Berlin Philharmonic sounded like before it became utterly Karajanized.
Symphony no 40 in G minor, K 550by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Conductor:
Period: Classical Written: 1788; Vienna, Austria Date of Recording: 08/19/1962 Venue: Neues Festspielhaus, Salzburg Length: 27 Minutes 24 Secs.
Applauseby Recorded Sound Conductor:
Date of Recording: 08/19/1962 Venue: Neues Festspielhaus, Salzburg Length: 0 Minutes 27 Secs.
Kindertotenliederby Gustav Mahler Performer:
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau ()
Period: Romantic Written: 1901-1904; Vienna, Austria Date of Recording: 08/19/1962 Venue: Neues Festspielhaus, Salzburg Length: 23 Minutes 15 Secs.
Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30by Richard Strauss Conductor:
Period: Romantic Written: 1895-1896; Germany Date of Recording: 08/19/1962 Venue: Neues Festspielhaus, Salzburg Length: 31 Minutes 21 Secs.