Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Concertos: No. 14
Piano Sonatas: No. 8; No. 18. Rondo,
Friedrich Gulda (pn);
Paul Angerer, cond;
DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 3442 B, mono/stereo (2 CDs: 146:11)
Austrian-born pianist Friedrich Gulda was an up-and-coming performer in the 1960s, but he was also a maverick with a penchant for challenging the musical establishment and for daring to display a strong interest in jazz. It was while he was rapidly absorbing jazz into his musical life that Gulda made his first Mozart recording for Decca, in 1954. Such an interest in popular musical idioms is not unusual among classical musicians, but it can be distracting. Leonard Bernstein’s interest in show tunes may have been a distraction and certainly was a taste-shaper. Gulda died in 2000 at age 69, leaving an influential recording legacy. On these Decca Eloquence discs we are privileged to have access to part of this legacy.
This is ideal Mozart: no tampering with dynamics or tempos, great clarity, and winning distinctiveness. Gulda, the great Mozartian, is at his best, and there is no hint of jazz. Anthony Collins and Paul Angerer, and their various orchestras, are fully attuned to Mozart’s piano concerto requirements. String section quality and ensemble playing range from very good to first-rate. Part-writing is notably clear, and balance between orchestra and piano is ideal. The most satisfying playing occurs in the E
-Concerto (K 449) because the string quality and ensemble playing of the London Symphony Orchestra are superior to that of the other orchestras. In the second-movement cadenza of the G-Major Concerto (K 453), Gulda lets his hair down with unexpected but tasteful insertions of rubato. In the concluding movement, the theme and first three variations are taken at a slower tempo than found in any performance in my memory. At this tempo, the music sounds a bit stilted, but that may be the result of my years of faster-tempo indoctrination. The complex development section of the first movement of the C-Major Concerto (K 503) is afforded an attention-getting level of orchestral and solo clarity. The much neglected D-Major Concerto (K 537), long one of my favorite Mozart concertos because of its unusually attractive thematic material, is an especially attractive inclusion in this set because of Gulda’s unmatched treatment of the lovely Larghetto. Gulda plays the first movement of the powerful A-Minor Sonata (K 310) without the usual fiery passion, but this somehow does not diminish its impact. The second movement is affectively lilting under Gulda’s command, with the concluding return to A Minor in the final movement complementing the approach taken in the opening movement. Gulda gives Mozart’s last sonata (D Major, K 576) an exuberant opening. He provides the second movement with especially notable articulation and expressiveness when reaching its F
-Minor subject. This is the most convincing performance of K 576 in my memory.
There is a unifying element in this CD set. The opening bars of the third movement of the D-Major Sonata on disc 1 can be traced back to the material at the beginning of the third movement of the K 449 Concerto (at 0:18 for the orchestra and at 1:06 for the piano) on disc 2.
The two conductors in this set have two things in common. Each began his career as an orchestra violist before becoming a conductor, and each became a good conductor (if these discs are any measure) without achieving star status. Anthony Collins studied violin with Serge Rivarde, and later studied composition with Gustav Holst. In 1925 he joined the London Symphony Orchestra, eventually serving as principal violist and as director. Later in his career he worked with Fritz Busch. He subsequently developed as a composer, settled in California to conduct for film studios, and eventually returned to England to continue to conduct for films and to conduct several major British symphony orchestras. In 1953, Collins returned to the United States, where he remained until his death 10 years later. Austrian conductor and composer Paul Angerer, born in 1927, began his studies at the Vienna Academy of Music and the Vienna Conservatory. He started his career as a violist for the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, moving later to the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra and the Suisse Romande Orchestra. He began his conducting career as chief conductor of the Vienna Chamber Orchestra from 1956 to 1963. He has conducted several other orchestras throughout Germany and Switzerland. Since 1983, he has served as a professor at the Vienna Academy of Music. He appears as both a conductor and an instrumentalist (violin, viola, viola d’amore, recorder, cembalo) on various recordings. As to the unnamed orchestras, both the “Orchestra” for K 453 and the “New Symphony Orchestra” are studio orchestras of hand-picked musicians.
There is very little information in the accompanying text insert or in the text on the jewel case about the conductors or orchestras, and there is no information about either the sonic properties, i.e., whether mono or stereo, or about the cadenzas. As to sonic properties, here are the dates (from the very fine print on the rear of the jewel case): K 449 (1955), K 453 (1961), K 503 (1955), K 537 (1955), K 310 (1953), K 576 (1948), K 485 (1953). My audio system sound quality and my ear tell me that the piano solo works are monaural, but that the concertos are early stereo. The D-Major Sonata from 1948 has some surface noise, but Gulda’s marvelous approach to this work (especially in the second movement’s F
-Minor subject) makes any such distraction disappear. As to cadenzas, most are unfamiliar to me and may be Gulda’s; it would be good to know their origins. A production error reverses the order in the accompanying text of the K 310 Sonata and K 485 Rondo; on the disc the sonata comes first. It is ironic that Decca’s “Eloquence” is concomitant with information absences and lapses, although silence can be a most subtle, or perhaps perverse, expression of eloquence.
These are Mozart CDs that belong in everyone’s collection. They are one of the few benchmarks for these concertos and for the last Mozart sonata, in the same sense that (for example) Serkin, Perahia, and Brendel have set benchmarks for all or some of these Mozart concertos. However, Friedrich Gulda in these two CDs goes beyond the benchmark level by offering, with his fellow musicians, a quintessential Mozart experience.
FANFARE: Burton Rothleder
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Piano no 25 in C major, K 503 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Friedrich Gulda (Piano)
New Symphony Orchestra of London
Written: 1786; Vienna, Austria
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