Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra on Andante

0 of 5 stars

Piano Concerto No.12 in A, K414 (a)
Piano Concerto No.14 in E flat, K449 (a)
Piano Concerto No.20 in D minor, K466 (a)
Requiem in D minor, K626 (b)
Sinfonia concertante in E flat for violin, viola and orchestra, K364 (c)
Symphony No.41 in C, K551 ’Jupiter’ (c)

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
(a)directed by Maurizio Pollini (piano) – 15/11/81
(b)Lucia Popp (soprano)
Margarita Lilowa (mezzo-soprano)
Anton Dermota (tenor)
Walter Berry (bass)
Wiener Singakademie, conducted by Josef Krips – 08/12/73
(c)Igor Oistrakh (violin), conducted by David Oistrakh (viola) – 28/05/72

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: April 2002
CD No: ANDANTE 69948 74992 2 (3 CDs)

Andante’s typical presentation of notes, photos and excellent mastering complements three CDs that offer a feast of Mozart and a banquet of rich and stimulating live performances from either Vienna’s Konzerthaus (piano concertos) or Musikverein. The stereo sound reports excellent balance and tonal fidelity.

I recall Maurizio Pollini backstage in London’s Royal Festival Hall talking with Simon Rattle after a concert. Rattle clearly had a project up his sleeve involving Mozart concertos. “I play only six of them,” advised Pollini. He has recorded numbers 19 and 23 with Karl Bohm and the VPO (DG); I heard him play the C minor (K491) years ago with the LSO and Eugen Jochum; this release presents the other three – how valuable! His direction is of course analogous with his playing of the solo parts. Having the VPO helps; the single-mindedness due to Pollini’s dual role and also the VPO’s innate way with the music and its chamber-music instincts.

The focussed and fastidious Pollini might seem a stranger to a three-concerto evening, yet he is consistently serious and intimate, if perhaps lacking charm. This suits the D minor, the opening orchestral introduction tense, austere even, with vivid timpani and plangent woodwind; Pollini enters from orchestral mist with a solo of grave intent. This is an imperious reading, one that makes no concession to prettiness or (thankfully) preciousness; refined eloquence is the nearest Pollini gets to sweetening the listener’s ear. The portent of Beethoven in the rumbling bass figurations cues Pollini opting for his cadenzas, which add a further emotional twist. A simply played slow movement, its dramatic middle brought off with controlled turbulence, is answered by a weighty ’Finale’, where there is nothing coy about accents.

In the earlier and ’lighter’ concertos I miss affection in Pollini’s playing. Yet the unrushed ’Finale’ of K414 is a joy, so too that of K449. The latter’s opening movement is a model of equipoise between fleetness and rounded expression. Pollini’s respect for the music perhaps finds him placing it on too high a pedestal – there is more sparkle than Pollini suggests. His taste and purpose is not questioned.

The Oistrakhs were closely associated with K364 (their famous 1963 Decca recording is just reissued – 470 258-2). This concert performance is a minute quicker in the first movement without compromising the ’maestoso’ direction. As befits a towering masterpiece, the father and son violinists (David, as he did, taking the viola part) dig deep into the music’s soul, nowhere more so than the heavenly slow movement – one of music’s pinnacles; the ’Finale’ is swift without taking the ’Presto’ marking too literally.

David’s conducting of the ’Jupiter’ is lithe and shapely. Wind, brass and timpani are well to the fore, which catches the militaristic aspect of the opening movement. Oistrakh introduces effective contrasts of unaffected lyricism and delicacy, and the slowly-evolving contours of the ’Andante cantabile’ sustain dark poetry. The ’Menuetto’ flows and dances, while the miraculous last movement enjoys a moderate tempo allowing every line to speak and dovetail, not least in the closing five-part fugue, horns jubilant. I regret that Oistrakh does not observe both repeats (he takes neither); at this tempo, with them included, the ’Finale’ would have emerged as truly momentous.

Fine though all this is, it’s the Requiem that makes this issue very special. Although he was to live another ten months, this was Josef Krips’s final concert – by design it seems, determined by illness. His imminent retirement and being conscious of ill-health and the spectre of death, and working with his beloved Vienna Philharmonic, brings from Krips a focus that radiates to all those involved; their humanitarian response communicates on the deepest level. Krips leads a wonderfully expressive rendition, one that relishes the music and brings out its drama and empathy with the text.

The devotion is tangible – Lucia Popp is radiant – and the chorus is remarkably unanimous above a trenchant orchestra: try the ’Kyrie eleison’ (track 2). The succeeding ’Dies irae’ is measured but elemental (with a good burst of organ tone), and the ’Recordare’ is a high point, every trill chills the blood, the four soloists integrated in exclamation. This big-boned performance embraces the operatic-stage and the cloister while transcending the mechanical to offer consolation – the ’Hostias’ (track 10) is sublime. Something celebratory should surely close a career; Krips’s exiting to Mozart’s Requiem seems perfect.

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