Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Concertos Nos. 9 and 19
Clara Haskil (pn); Carl Schuricht, cond; Stuttgart RSO
PHILHARMONIE 6017, mono (57:17)
This pairing was previously issued by Hänssler Classic in 2000, not to be confused with her performance of No. 9 conducted by Otto Ackermann on Urania which is considered her best version of this Concerto. She also recorded Concerto No. 19 with Ferenc Fricsay, long considered a classic, and also for Westminster with Henry Swoboda, not as highly regarded from the conducting
perspective. There is also another version of No. 19, with Victor Desarzens and the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra on Claves, but I’ve never heard it and so cannot comment. The bottom line is that Haskil didn’t get her international career underway until age 52, made some truly wonderful recordings over the next 11 years, and then unfortunately died at age 63. An extreme nervous condition (some simplified it as stage fright, but it ran deeper than that, some sort of neurological disorder) prevented her playing very much even when she did begin performing and recording more often, but many well respected musicians, including her great friend Dinu Lipatti, thought very highly of her and kept encouraging her to come out of her shell.
Although I’ve not heard the Hänssler Classic issue of these performances, I can’t imagine that it sounds any finer than this. Both orchestra and piano are clearly defined in very slightly covered mono radio sound with no artifact noise to distract one (a slight treble boost and bass reduction will provide a more natural sound). Perhaps the lesser reputation of this Concerto No. 9 to the one with Ackermann is due to Schuricht’s slightly more Romantic reading. Although the orchestra is not large, the string textures sound “heavy,” not only in the upper strings but also in the basses and cellos, yet one should remember that Mozart encountered bass-heavy orchestras in Italy during his sojourn there, so this was not altogether a sound that would be foreign to him. More foreign, I think, would be the ultra-suave phrasing, as if the orchestra was playing concertos by Brahms rather than Mozart, yet of the conductors named in the opening paragraph only Fricsay, during this same period, performed Mozart with much leaner textures. Nevertheless, the sleekness and richness of string sound strike the ear a bit oddly nowadays, and the second movement
emerges more as an
. We must simply grin and bear it, for Haskil’s contribution is sparkling and full of nuance—perhaps not as nuanced as Nadia Reisenberg’s legendary WOR radio performance with conductor Alfred Wallenstein (available via donations to the University of Maryland) but in its own way nicely chiseled in a Dinu Lipatti sort of way and not lacking power in certain bridge passages. It was certainly not friendliness alone that made Lipatti continually urge Haskil to begin concertizing: She was immensely gifted. Just listen, for instance, to the way she drops through the separated notes in the second-movement cadenza in such a way as to evoke a tremendous mood. This in itself points up what a great Mozartian she was, regardless of style or era.
If anything, I found the 1956 performance of Concerto No. 19 even more finely nuanced by both pianist and conductor, and in this later Concerto Haskil’s playing is slightly more forceful, reflecting the growth and maturity of the composer. This is what is so often lacking nowadays in Mozart piano playing: nuance, nuance, nuance! You can hear it in Ronald Brautigam’s sparkling set of the Mozart sonatas, and in very few Mozart concerto recordings, but more often than not what you get is the flat-response type of playing one hears from Murray Perahia, fine though he is in other ways, and the myriad pianists of the “historically informed” generation.
My biggest complaint of this release is the fact that, although each of the six movements is individually banded, they are not identified as such anywhere on the box inset or in the booklet. This is a small inconvenience to the seasoned listener, who is probably their target market anyway, but to my mind it’s just not right. Otherwise, if you don’t already have these performances or their counterparts conducted by Ackermann and Fricsay, this is certainly a good representation of Haskil’s Mozart playing.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Piano no 9 in E flat major, K 271 "Jeunehomme" by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Clara Haskil (Piano)
Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1777; Salzburg, Austria
Date of Recording: 1952-56
Length: 30 Minutes 14 Secs.
Concerto for Piano no 19 in F major, K 459 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Clara Haskil (Piano)
Written: 1784; Vienna, Austria
Date of Recording: 1952-56
Length: 27 Minutes 17 Secs.
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