Symphony No.40 in G minor, K550 Mahler
Also sprach Zarathustra, Op.30
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone)
Recorded 19 August 1962 in Neues Festspielhaus, Salzburg, Austria
CD No: TESTAMENT SBT2 1489 (2 CDs) Duration: 86 minutes Reviewed: February 2014
Berlin Philharmonic/Karl Böhm with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau at the 1962 Salzburg Festival – Mozart 40, Kindertotenlieder, Also sprach Zarathustra [Testament]
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
The Salzburg Festival archive as recorded by Austrian Radio continues to release treasure, in this case a Berlin Philharmonic appearance with Karl Böhm. The mono sound, expertly re-mastered by Paul Baily across the range and dynamics of the orchestra (with no tainting of frequencies in the low registers and during pianissimos) reveals a bright sound (occasionally fierce) that serves well Böhm’s uncompromising view of Mozart 40, the first movement very deliberate in tempo but with an advantage to the clarity of the opening (accompanying) rhythm of the violas and also to the desperate nature of the music, Böhm subtly malleable in expressive turns of phrase. It’s so good to have this music given with the richness of full forces and to find the Andante treated as a fully-fledged slow movement. Some may find Böhm’s approach stubborn and heavy, and if the finale is here the most thrusting of the four, he continues to underline the tragic nature of the piece. His repeat scheme is ideal in terms of the whole; that in the first movement observed and all in the Minuet and Trio, and none in the slow movement and finale.
In terms of character this concert’s first half was without any laughs – a G-minor Symphony followed by Mahler’s Songs on the Death of Children. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, very closely balanced, to the orchestra’s detriment, and his own in anything forte and above, is given to hectoring as part of a sombre and sobering account of this song-cycle, totally without respite in terms of naked intensity to which Böhm is responsive and the Berliners’ soloists very expressive.
For Richard Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra, applause to welcome Böhm is retained (as it is to greet Fischer-Dieskau). It’s a rather splendid performance, the opening section a genuine elating sunrise rather than a scene-stealing film credit, although the organ is rather puny is sound. After the ‘2001’ bit, Böhm’s control of this Nietzsche-inspired symphonic poem is masterly in terms of pacing and sectional integration. It could glow more and be more sensational, but Böhm knew first-hand Strauss’s own boundaries in terms of decorum and dignity even in a heady score such as this. Böhm’s focus on structure and philosophy is an interesting twist, conjuring an ‘Of Science’ section of remarkable gravitas, for example, and overall a beauty and drive that has no truck with gloss or bombast. Such a ‘serious’ approach pays many rewards and if even the ‘Dance-Song’ episode lacks sparkle – honeyed violin-playing from Michel Schwalbé, though – the build-up to and delivery of the ‘midnight bell’ climax is compelling.
These artists recorded this repertoire for Deutsche Grammophon, but this is a one-night-only performance in Salzburg with all the thrills and spills of live performance and recommended therefore as a means of ‘being there’. The two CDs sell for “a reduced price”.