Classical Reissue Reviews

Lucerne Festival = MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 20; BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 5 “Emperor” – Clara Haskil, piano/ Philharmonia Orch./ Otto Klemperer (Mozart)/ Robert Casadesus, p./ Vienna Philharmonic Orch./ Dimitri Mitropoulos – Audite

Two collaborations, of Mozart and Beethoven in Lucerne, welcome the extraordinary talents of Haskil and Casadesus, each accompanied by a passionate conductor, for two epic performances.

Published on September 17, 2013

Lucerne Festival = MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 20; BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 5 “Emperor” – Clara Haskil, piano/ Philharmonia Orch./ Otto Klemperer (Mozart)/ Robert Casadesus, p./ Vienna Philharmonic Orch./ Dimitri Mitropoulos – Audite

Lucerne Festival = MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466; BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73 “Emperor” – Clara Haskil, piano/ Philharmonia Orch./ Otto Klemperer (Mozart)/ Robert Casadesus, piano/ Vienna Philharmonic Orch./ Dimitri Mitropoulos – Audite 95.623, 69:02 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Rarely does an artist comment critically on her own performance, but Romanian pianist Clara Haskil (1895-1960) called her 8 September 1959 Lucerne collaboration with Otto Klemperer in Mozart’s D Minor Concerto “unforgettable.”  Many concur that Haskil “had been sent on earth to play Mozart.” Haskil engaged the stormy D Minor Concerto any number of times, in concert and in recordings. In 1942, Haskil had performed the work in Marseilles, the scene of her flight from Nazi persecution; and one witness-critic commented that “this purity, in this calm, beneath these stars. . .[she] dared to make known the great lament of a sick world. . .  .As soon as we leave this enchanted realm, we will feel less desperation and loneliness.”

Otto Klemperer (1885-1973) appeared in Lucerne eight times; and in 1954 the Philharmonia Orchestra of London replaced the Swiss Festival Orchestra for the entire series of summer concerts. Despite Klemperer’s penchant for monumentality of expression, here in 1959 he restrains Mozart’s fiery orchestra so that Haskil may fulfill her role as “the ringing herald of the most inspired keyboard poetry.” That is not to deny Klemperer’s own capacity for lyric poetry and inflamed drama, as witnessed in the exquisite Romanza movement in B-flat Major. Whether we should embrace the last movement Rondo as a dramma gicocoso or a cheerful resolution to a life crisis, the resilience and rhythmic life of the collaboration remains fleet, articulate, and potent. The sun breaks through the D Minor gloom in the manner of an ingenuous children’s song, artless in its splendid celebration of the will to survive. Both grandly mounted and intimately tender, this is a classic performance by dint of its authenticity and musical communion of kindred spirits.

Another eminent keyboard talent, Robert Casadesus (1899-1972) appears in Lucerne with his old collaborator in musical greatness, Greek wizard Dimitri Mitropoulos (1896-1960), with whom he made many sound documents accompanied by the New York Philharmonic. While they did record Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto in Paris in 1955, here (1 September 1957), they have the illustrious sound of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Mitropoulos won the abiding respect of this mighty ensemble, and he had performed the Berlioz Requiem with this orchestra in memory of Wilhelm Furtwaengler. Casadesus brings a decided virility to his Beethoven, a febrile density and electric energy shared by the passionate Mitropoulos. Both buoyantly fleet and diaphanously muscular, the jeu perle that Casadesus commands can disarm us, especially after one of his onrushes of Promethean sound.

Curiously, this appearance of the Vienna Philharmonic at the Lucerne Festival venue marked its debut. Given the intensity and breadth of the Emperor rendition – especially the spaciousness of the theme-and-variations second movement – we must lament that this date represents Mitropoulos’ sole appearance at the Festival. Critic Willi Reich’s review for the Neue Zuercher Zeitung embraced the “exemplary clarity of line” Casadesus projects, particularly in its “interplay with the horns in the cadenza of the first movement.” Supple and dramatically cogent, the performance ranks with any of the five commercial recordings Casadesus inscribed of the Emperor, of which those with Mitropoulos and Rosbaud remain dear to collectors’ hearts.

—Gary Lemco




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