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“The Mozart Radio Broadcasts”
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Disc 1: Symphony n° 1 in E-Flat major, K. 16 – n° 4 in D major, K. 19 – n° 5 in B-Flat major, K. 22 – n° 6 in F major, K. 43 – n° 7 in D major, K. 45 – n° 8 in D major, K. 48 – n° 9 in C major, K. 73 [d]; Disc 2 [1]: Symphony n° 23 in D major, K. 181 [i] – n° 27 in G major, K. 199 [g] – Bassoon Concerto in B-Flat major, K. 191 [c] – Sinfonia Concertante for Four Winds in E-Flat major, K. 297b [e]; Disc 3: Cassation in G major, K. 63 “Toy Symphony” [h] – Serenade in E-Flat major, K. 375 [j] – Ein musikalischer Spass, in F major, K. 522 [h]; Disc 4 [2]: Serenata notturna in D major, K. 239 [a] – Divertimento in F major, K. 247 [f] – in D major, K. 334 [b] – Le nozze di Figaro, K. 492 [f]: “Sull’aria duet” [3] – Don Giovanni, K. 527 [f]: Recitativo accompagnato & aria “In quali eccessi” [4]

RIAS-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Sinfonia concertante [1]: Hermann Tottcher (oboe), Heinrich Geuser (clarinet), Kurt Blank (horn), Johannes Zuther (bassoon); [2]: Serenata notturna: Rudolf Schulz, Fritz Gorlach (violin), Hans Mahlke (viola), Georg Zschenker (double bass); [3] Le nozze di Figaro: Suzanne Danco [3,4] (soprano), Rita Streich [3], Ferenc Fricsay (conductor)
Recording: Titania Palast, Berlin (February [a] and September [b] 1951), Jesus Christus Kirche, Berlin (December [c] 1951, May and June 1952 [d][e], September 1952 [f], October 1952 [g], April 1954 [h]), Studio Lankwitz, Berlin (December 1951 [i]), RAIS-Funkhaus, Studio 7, Berlin (September 1952 [j]) – 300’58
Deutsche Grammophon 00289-479-98275 – Booklet in English, German and French

“Mozart is the first, and so far, only composer to conjure up life in its entirety.” observed Hungarian conductor Ferenc Fricsay who went to every length to articulate that belief in the aftermath of World War II (WWII.) In the late 1940s he was co-director of Metropolitan Orchestra of Budapest and principal conductor of the Budapest Opera. Then he accepted the musical directorships of RIAS-Symphonie-Orchester and Berlin Oper. He went to Berlin to assemble many of the best musicians still working, and he was determined to rebuild orchestras in Germany.

In 1951 Berlin was still a decimated, demoralized city, a divided occupied city, its population still suffering in the aftermath of WWII and the brutal winters. Despite every hardship they faced, Fricsay brought impeccable technical artistry, showcasing brilliant performances by the RIAS Orchester in this environment. Fricsay was known as a taskmaster, rehearsing nonstop, often in unheated churches in Berlin, and bringing in the best players with a mission to rebuild the authority, clarity and musicianship of a decimated classical music world.

Some are from studio sessions, others via live broadcasts that have been remastered and released as “The Mozart Radio Broadcasts” in this four-disc collection by Deutsche Grammophon. When listening to these vibrant performances in the present, one can only imagine the emotional impact it had on the spirit of the city to hear Mozart’s music over the airwaves. Fricsay studied with Béla Bartók, Zoltán Kodály at the Budapest Academy of Music where he studied piano, violin, clarinet, trombone, percussion, composition and conducting.

These remastered monaural recordings may be behind the digital sound times, but there’s no questioning the distinct artistry (and mission) of these RIAS musicians and the precision of Fricsay. At that time, Fricsay was under exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon and the professional guidance of fellow Hungarian Elisa Schiller who was in charge of the music department at RIAS and head of production at Deutsche Grammophon. Schiller, a Jewish pianist in pre-war Berlin, was summarily arrested by the Gestapo, and she barely survived her internment at Terezin concentration camp.

The many musical highlights of this collection are early Mozart Symphonies (1, 4-9), and it features some of Mozart’s often ignored, shorter symphonic works: a precise reminder of his mastery of structure and compositional rigor and the foreshadowing of his more mature innovations. So instructive is the revisit of Symphony n° 5, for instance, with its stirring “Andante” that it gives way to one of Mozart’s most intense allegros. Or the sumptuous baroque muscle that gets earthier with each progression in a maturing Mozart found in Symphony n° 23 and n° 27.

The Cassation series, an informal divertimenti form popular in Germany, reveals a durable resonance of Mozart’s musicality: the atypically subdued “Marche” to a stately minuet (almost hinting at ballroom satire), and the bloom of dance intimacy, are just a few examples of Mozart’s inspired template in this form, here performed with vibrancy by RIAS.

The Serenata notturna is exemplar of chamber music dynamics, with such rich interplay by this ensemble: violinists Rudolf Schultz and Fritz Gurlach, simmering viola lines by Hans Mahike and Georg Zschenker on double bass. It is followed by the studio session of the Divertimento in F major. Technical problems with the microphone cut RIAS’ allotted studio time, so Fricsay could only record a four movement version of the Divertimento, but the maestro was, nonetheless, pleased with the result. I would be remiss for not citing the expertise of the RIAS engineers on these tracks in 1951 and their remastering at Deutsche Grammophon.

Quite simply, these recordings should be in everyone’s classical library, not only for their artistic clarity, but for their singular historic importance. The determination and work by musicians in this war ravaged, internationally disgraced country was a musical sanctuary, helping to heal a broken German nation.

Lewis J. Whittington




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