Haskil and Schuricht Bring Out the Melos of Mozart

Haskil Mozart cover

MOZART: Piano Concertos Nos. 9 in E-flat, K. 271 & 19 in F, K. 459 / Clara Haskil, piano; SWR Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orch.; Carl Schuricht, conductor / SWR Music 19013CD (mono) live: 1952 & 1956

This odd little CD is herewith reissued for what seems like the third time, as I have been able to trace at least four other incarnations: in 2003 under Schuricht’s name on SWR Hänssler Classics, on the “Phil Harmonie” label, in 2005 as part of the “Carl Schuricht Edition” on SWR and, besides this one, a new pressing by some company called “Mangora Classics.” But the front cover of this one boasts “Original SWR tame remastered. I compared it to the 2005 pressing on SWR Hänssler and can hear absolutely no difference. This is both good and bad: good in that the warmth of sound is preserved, but bad in that this pressing, like the earlier one, sounds a bit muddy to me. I increased the treble by about 1.7 db and found that it brightened up the string and piano tone wonderfully, making it sound crisper and less opaque.

So why am I reviewing it here? Because the performances are absolutely gorgeous. Haskil was a fairly straightforward pianist, like her good friend Dinu Lipatti; she was not prone to any modifications of the melodic line as were, for instance, Artur Schnabel (who recorded Mozart but not these concertos) or Nadia Reisenberg (who did perform these concertos). But she had a wonderfully strong approach to playing and way of slightly pressing the tempo forward that works wonders in Mozart.

But the real reason for my delight in these performances is the sympathetic conducting of Schuricht. Never before, in my experience, have I heard a better combination of conductor and soloists in any Mozart concerto, not even in Haskil’s studio recordings of the Mozart Concertos Nos. 20 and 24 with Igor Markevitch (Philips). It’s not just a matter of warmth, although these performances certainly have that; it’s more a matter of understanding every note in every single bar, and of conveying not only the underlying structure of the music but also the melos. These performances sing in a way I’ve never heard in any Mozart Concerto performance before, and in a sense it is almost as if Haskil, as fine as she is, is along for the ride rather than sitting in the driver’s seat.

If the reader assumes from the above paragraph that these are “conductor-driven” performances, as for instance were those of Szell or Toscanini in concertos, he or she will be wrong. They are complete collaborations. In fact, if anything the tempos are somewhat leisurely—Schuricht and Haskil take more than a half hour to get through the Concerto No. 9—but somehow they don’t sound it. They sound just perfect for the music, and that is the highest compliment I can pay to them.

Thus it doesn’t matter how many other recordings you may have of these pieces. This disc reveals something in the music, something almost indefinable, that other recordings simply don’t, no matter how interesting or dynamic the keyboard soloists may be. And oh, yes…they are infinitely better than most “historically informed performances” you may hear of them.

— © 2016 Lynn René Bayley

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