In his thoughtful, affectionate and perceptive contribution
to the booklet notes, pianist Paul Badura-Skoda reflects on
his association with both conductors who accompany him in the
Mozart performances in this disc.
His New York debut in 1952 was given with George Szell, the
older man clearly admiring Badura-Skoda’s hardworking finger
clarity, because he was seek him out later for performances
in Cleveland. Two years later, at the end of December 1959,
Szell again sought him out to reprise their Cleveland performance
of Mozart’s E flat concerto K.482, but this time in Amsterdam.
The sound is somewhat constricted, but its boxiness does little
to impede appreciation of the collaboration. The bright, communicative
rapport is evident from the first. Badura-Skoda plays with imaginative
control, and rounded tone. His cadenzas are marvellously dispatched
– it seems silly to concentrate on this one facet of his art
but it recurs in the companion concerto, so is worth noting.
There’s great pathos and dignity in the slow movement, although
in his notes Badura-Skoda cites an earlier performance he gave
with Furtwängler as the greatest he gave in respect of
accompaniment in this movement – it’s on Music & Arts CD-1097.Without
question, though, the finale with Szell is the more dapper,
with plenty of witty exchanges orchestrally.
If the live performance with Szell was a meeting based on mutual
admiration generated by prior encounters, that with Horst Stein
was a more genial affair timed to celebrate the 150th
anniversary of the Bösendorfer firm. At the performance Badura-Skoda
received the ‘Bösendorfer Ring’, bestowed for life for embodying
the best Viennese traditions, an object previously worn only
by Wilhelm Backhaus. Badura-Skoda and Stein performed the Concerto
in C, K503 and did so with enviable rapport and warmth. The
1978 recording quality is necessarily a vast improvement on
the Amsterdam one, though it’s rather chilly and doesn’t necessarily
flatter the strings of the Vienna Philharmonic, who play with
accustomed generosity, and plushness. The pianist plays with
style and lovely tone, warm and rounded, but full of precision
and clarity. For his first movement cadenza, Badura-Skoda picks
up on the proto-Marseillaise motif and leads with it, working
it over splendidly. Singing legato informs the slow movement,
supportive winds assisting — a study in refinement. Crispness
meanwhile is the watchword of the finale, Stein ensuring that
the double basses articulate clearly and that the final cadences
receive proper grandeur.
These contrasting performances – nearly twenty years apart,
with different conductors and orchestras – demonstrate Badura-Skoda’s
assured and unflagging Mozartian affiliations. Admirers need
not hesitate for a moment.