Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor, Op.37
Piano Sonata in F minor, Op.57 (Appassionata)
Piano Sonata in A, Op.101
Friedrich Gulda (piano)
Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester [Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra]
Concerto recorded in Funkhaus, Saal 1, WDR Cologne on 25 February 1957; Sonatas recorded in Funkhaus, Saal 2, on 22 February 1957
Reviewed by: Colin Clarke
Reviewed: February 2008
CD No: MEDICI MASTERS
Duration: 76 minutes
The recent resurgence of interest in Friedrich Gulda (1930-2000) is very welcome. Deutsche Grammophon has issued what it called a series of ‘Mozart tapes’ and also a DVD. This latter is of vital importance to understanding the artist and his quirkiness. It includes some of Gulda’s compositions, a documentary and concert footage. Gulda’s eccentricities are the stuff of legend. But it should be remembered that he made his name solely on the strength of his playing.
It is clear from Gulda’s first entry in the C minor Concerto that his musical world lies several strata above that of his accompanists. While the playing of the Cologne orchestra rises above the workaday, it does not do so by much. Gulda’s playing breathes freshness and there is delicacy to his touch that is entirely natural and which facilitates easy conversations with the woodwind soloists. If there is a disappointment, it is the finale, which lacks the propulsive nature of either of Pollini’s accounts (one with Böhm, the other with Abbado) or the wit of Brendel. The orchestra sounds rather tired under Mario Rossi’s direction, and whilst Gulda’s lead-in to the finale’s coda is mightily impressive, the coda itself sags unforgivably.
Good to have this Gulda ‘Appassionata’, though, even when he commercially recorded it a couple of times as part of complete Beethoven cycles. Gulda is infinitely inquisitive, not to mention fiery. Repeated notes fizz with contained energy and when that energy erupts, it is in virtuoso waves. Gulda does not underplay the fierceness of Beethoven’s visage here (at times the recording is tested, with traces of distortion accompanying higher frequencies). Perhaps this is why the second movement’s shafts of light seem overshadowed by the seriousness of their surroundings. No problems with the coda: it takes off like a rocket.
Gulda evokes an altogether different world for the A major Sonata. The peace of the first movement could hardly stand in greater contrast to the storm of the final pages of the ‘Appassionata’. In fact, the first movement diminuendos beautifully into nothing; then the quirky march that follows is unashamedly fragmented, as if Gulda is intent on reminding us that Beethoven was entering a new phase. Gulda gives us moments of divine magic.
Gulda was 26 when these fascinating performances took place and although there are studio recordings of all three works by him, the accounts presented here are appendices that beg to he heard. Jeremy Siepmann’s booklet essay, entitled “Gulda at the Summit”, is unabashed in its laudation while overlooking basic information such as birth and death years or even clarifying that Gulda died in 2000 aged 69.