Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 4.
Piano Concerto No. 23.
Franz Konwitschny, cond; Friedrich Gulda (pn); Dresden St O
ORFEO C 839 112 B (2 CDs: 111:39) Live: Salzburg 8/4/1961
This 1961 monaural CD set commemorates the first postwar appearance of the Dresden State orchestra at the Salzburg Festival. The event appears to have been tinged with the Cold War
politics of the day. Karajan was pointedly in attendance. And the question of whether to raise the flag of the DDR was at issue, a requested condition of the orchestra’s performing, though it was not flown in the end. Franz Konwitschny, who would die of a heart attack the following year, was simultaneously the most famous conductor in East Germany and a man with a well-known and somewhat eager Nazi past. So there was a considerable discomfort factor at work, and something to prove. Indeed, the CD notes chronicle the hesitant tone of West German critical response to the concert at the time.
But what of the music? Konwitschny’s way with the Beethoven is Bruno Walterish and warm, but with a bit more Szell-like precision in the violins. Apparently articulation and accuracy were of paramount importance to Konwitschny, and indeed the orchestra plays with remarkable unity. Similarly, in the Mozart concerto, the accompaniment appears to consist of a fairly small complement of strings playing with a deftness uncommon at the time. Friedrich Gulda’s sound here is not particularly appealing. There are moments when due to microphone quirks his instrument more resembles a fortepiano than a piano. But the conception of the concerto is mainstream and its execution technically accomplished.
surprises me, however, with its utter rightness and beauty. This worthy but overwritten piece is hard to bring off. One tends either to plod along forgettably, or, worse, inflate every moment in an attempt to please the audience, as though it were a Hollywood film before its time. I’ve encountered renditions of the “baby taking its bath” section that belonged in a monster movie, and where “kill it before it multiplies” would have been an appropriate response! Here, once you get used to the slightly distant monaural sound, otherwise well balanced, and keep the volume a bit low to counter any distortion, you might as well be listening to something from
This performance flows like light cream and soars effortlessly. It seems to be in the players’ bones. And by coming across simply as music, it defies any of its oft-accused vulgarity. The level of accomplishment in the playing is extraordinary. Flawless ensemble. No nervous imprecisions. Indeed, this is the best
I’ve ever heard. Karajan was on his feet at the end of it, applauding from the audience. And well he should have been!
FANFARE: Steven Kruger
Works on This Recording
Symphonia domestica, Op. 53 by Richard Strauss
Written: 1902-1903; Germany
Concerto for Piano no 23 in A major, K 488 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Friedrich Gulda (Piano)
Written: 1786; Vienna, Austria
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