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Monday, January 14, 2008

Monday's Review

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat, K. 271 [30:26]
Piano Concerto No. 19 in F. K. 459 [26:13]
Nine Variations on a Menuet by Duport K. 573[10:38]

Clara Haskil, (piano)
Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra
Otto Ackermann (K. 271)
Ferenc Fricsay (K. 459)

Recorded at the Funkhaus Sall, WDR Cologne, 11 June 1954 (K. 271) and 30 May 1952(K. 459), and at the Besançon Festival, 7 September 1956 (K. 573).

MEDICI ARTS MM004-2 [67:58]

Charles Chaplin declared that he had met only three geniuses in his life: Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein and Clara Haskil. Practically worshipped in her later years, Ms. Haskil suffered for most of her life from everything to a painful spinal condition to a crippling self-doubt. Her fellow Rumanian Dinu Lipatti was her ardent champion. His early death left Haskil grief stricken (she was secretly in love with him) and without a mentor. In spite of all these negative circumstances, Clara Haskil would go down in history as a goddess amongst pianists, a woman capable of a musical passion and elegance practically unequalled by her peers, and a classicist of the highest refinement.

Such plaudits are well in evidence in these 1950s vintage recordings of Mozart. This is playing of such pristine clarity that in spite of the somewhat muddy monaural sound, the listener is instantly drawn in and held captive. Passage work is perfect, each note a pearl on a strand. Phrases are nuanced to marble smoothness.

Neither is Haskil afraid of a little drama. More turbulent passages are played with flare. Ms. Haskil always has the reigns well in hand though, never letting emotion get the better of a firm sense of classical order and discipline. Slow movements are played lovingly and tenderly, but there is never the slightest hint of overt romanticism. Each melody evokes the rising of the sun in the morning, each cadence is perfectly placed. It is as though she composed each phrase herself, first sketching her thoughts, then carefully revising and refining her ideas, and then committing them to the page only when they were perfected.

Both Otto Ackermann and Ferenc Fricsay provide well balanced and sensitive accompaniments, but it is in the sound of the orchestra that the inferior sound quality becomes most obvious. Textures are blurred by the less that clear sound and at times the boxiness becomes a bit tiring. Nonetheless, these are performances of such grace and beauty from the soloist that I have found myself returning to this performance again and again, not only for enjoyment, but also for instruction.

This is a series that seems to be more about the performers than the music itself, and as such the booklet note by the always able Bryce Morrison is somewhat skimpy on information about the works at hand. No matter, really. His compassionate yet honest assessment of Haskil as a person and artist is insightful and lends even more enjoyment to her nearly flawless playing.

There are really not enough superlatives for this recording. Any music lover at any level should find something in which to marvel here.

-Kevin Sutton

-flawless, perfectly expressive…even the inferior sound does little to damage this priceless pianism.

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