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1955 AND COUNTING,
This review is from: Gieseking and the Philharmonia Wind Quintet (Audio CD)
Gieseking was not a chamber music player to any great extent, but Mozart's looming bicentennial year of 1956 seems to have prompted him to this unusual venture along with partnering Schwarzkopf in Mozart as accompanist. There has been a recent reissue on Sony of these very two works performed in 1953 by that dyed-in-the-wool chamber player Serkin with the principals of the Philadelphia, and it was that issue that reawakened my interest in the Gieseking set, which I have owned for many years. On the References LP the recorded sound is quite remarkably good, and if it has been further enhanced on this cd then so much the better. Brain's horn tone is caught beautifully, and that more than anything else is where this disc has a clear advantage. The woodwind sound is particularly pleasant too, and Gieseking's famously beautiful touch is reproduced very faithfully, to his entire advantage in the Beethoven work, perhaps a little less so in the Mozart.
Mozart's quintet breaks new ground in its treatment of wind timbre in a chamber context, and it is a relaxed and unqualified masterpiece. Beethoven's shows that mixture of caution with iconoclasm that was to be characteristic of him all his career, caution in this instance getting the upper hand. The piece is attractive and already individual in tone - he is following what was an innovative model, but he remains for the most part his master's voice still, his own further novelties being only at the margin. It is far and away the more straightforward work of the two, and Gieseking seems to me far more at home in it, however immersed he may have been getting in Mozart at the time. It is a work that responds particularly well to his refined and elegant manner in Beethoven. Serkin was another sort of Beethoven interpreter basically, but he doesn't try to give such a work as this the kind of 'thus spake' treatment he awards to bigger and more powerful compositions. As far as the piano part goes I should say both accounts are admirable, and Gieseking has a clear advantage in terms of the recorded sound.
When it comes to the Mozart there is no question at all that this account is relaxed, the question is whether it may just be too relaxed. What I can't feel sure of is to what extent the players, and the pianist in particular, really intended it to sound the way it does. You just have to play the Serkin account to be back in the normal world of Mozart-playing - alert, graceful and lively and with the characteristic variety of tone-colour that Serkin brought to this composer and to chamber music playing in general, the fruit of a lifetime's practice and familiarity already at age 50 on top of his inborn instinct. I sense that Gieseking basically set the tempo and idiom here. His touch is always tasteful and properly scaled, but after listening to Serkin it seems oddly monochrome, and after listening to Gieseking himself in the Beethoven it seems curiously diffident. This impression could be wrong of course. There is no question whatsoever but that the manner is very original and unusual, and by no means ineffective. This is Mozart, it is hallowed ground, and treading on it with deference and wariness is perfectly understandable. I can't make up my mind after all these years of knowing the performance, and I suspect I never shall be able to. What is unquestionable is just how beautiful it all is, and the recording engineers seem to have been very leading-edge for their time.
This is a disc that I have no qualms about recommending all the same. I can only suppose that its prospective purchasers are interested in hearing Gieseking, Dennis Brain and their illustrious partners in the two quintets. I am of course unable to offer comment on the filler consisting of a minor work of spurious attribution to Mozart performed under the baton of Uncle Herbert, but I suspect I would have had next to nothing to say about that in any event.