02 April 2010

Barylli and Doktor play Mozart

Sometimes when one waits long enough a hoped-for event takes place. Such is the case with the reissue of a wonderful recording of Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante in E flat major KV 364, with Walter Barylli (violin), Paul Doktor (viola) and the Vienna State Opera Orchestra conducted by Felix Prohaska.

This recording was first issued by Westminster in 1951, which makes it one of the very early LPs, the format having been first released as an alternative to 78 rpm records in 1948. It was certainly one of the first LPs my mother ever owned, and I have loved it since the day I first heard it at the age of about eight or nine. I still have that original vynil record, and have transferred it to CD, but it has certainly seen better days and for years I have been searching the catalogues to see whether a cleaned up version had ever been re-released. A few weeks ago I checked the Presto Classical website and couldn’t believe my eyes – it has now been released by the Austrian label Preiser Records (www.preiserrecords.at).

I would be the first to admit that my love for this recording is a function of the fact that it is so much a part of my introduction to classical music, and that hearing it can transport me back to the 1950s. But objectively it is a remarkably fine performance by remarkably talented musicians:

 - Walter Barylli was born in Vienna in 1921. He studied at the Vienna Music Academy with the concertmaster of the Vienna Philharmonic, and at age 15 went to Munich to study with the prominent violinist Florizel von Reuter, who took Barylli into his own home so that he could continue his studies without excessive expense to his parents.

In 1936 he gave his first public performance as a soloist, in Munich, and made his first gramophone records in Berlin. Over the next two years he made a career as an international soloist, but in 1938, on a train journey form Stuttgart to Vienna to audition for a first violin desk with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, he become aware of the preparations for the Anschluss – the German takeover of Austria. This confirmed for him that he needed to be a member of a symphony orchestra rather than a travelling soloist. Having successfully competed for the position he accepted it and became a member of this outstanding orchestra – aged 17.

During the war he first brought the Barylli Quartet together. He re-founded it in 1945, but most of its public performances were in the 1950s. My music collection contains an excellent recording of the Barylli Quartet playing Dvořák’s String Quartet No. 14 in A flat major, Op. 105, and pianist Edith Farnadi joining them in the Dvořák Piano Quintet in A major, Op. 81.

- Paul Doktor was born in Vienna in 1917, the son of singer-pianist Georgine and violist Karl Doktor. At the age of five he began violin studies with his father, and by his teens he was touring with the Adolf Busch Chamber Orchestra. At a few days’ notice he was asked to take over from the ailing second violist in a performance of a Mendelssohn Quintet with the Busch Quartet. He was invited to join the Quartet in presenting a series of Mozart Quintets at Wigmore Hall in London.

He remained with the viola ever after, and became the first violist ever to have been awarded unanimously the First Prize at the International Music Competition in Geneva. He left Vienna in 1938 and from 1939 to 1947 was solo violist with the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra. He moved to the United States in 1947 and became an American citizen in 1952.  In addition to his solo career he established with Yaltah Menuhin the Duo Doktor-Menuhin, and became a faculty member at the Juilliard School.

- Felix Prohaska was born in Vienna in 1912, the son of composer Carl Prohaska.  He had his primary music education at home with his father, and then studied piano and theory with other teachers.

After serving as répétiteur at the Graz opera from 1936 to 1939, he conducted opera in Duisburg from 1939 to 1941 and in Strasbourg from 1941 to 1943.

Following his early work of conducting, Felix Prohaska rehabilitated the Salzburg Festival following World War II and conducted for many years at the Vienna State Opera (1945-1955). He was Principal Conductor of the Frankfurt Opera from 1955-1961 before his appointment as director of the Frankfurt Hochschule für Musik. He again conducted at the Vienna State Opera (1964-1967), and then at the opera of Hannover (1965-1974), and he also served as director of the Hochschule fur Musik there (1961-1975).

Prohaska was one of the pioneers in recordings of Bach’s vocal works in the early 1950s. In preparing the works for recording all efforts were made to insure a reading as close to Bach's intentions as possible. The chorus and the orchestra were held to the approximate size of Bach’s own, and wherever possible, authentic instruments were used.

This diligent approach to music making is evident in the Sinfonia Concertante, in which the contribution of the orchestra is far more than simply accompanying the two soloists – in this work the orchestral score and solo instruments support and complement each other in a fully integrated fashion.

In the childhood days when I grew to love this music it was simply the music itself that attracted me. Almost sixty years on I can see it also as a small part of postwar reconstruction – part of the revival of something like normal life after the horrors of the war, Viennese survivors playing Viennese music, recorded for the new technology – the long-playing (but not microgroove) record.

Much as I love this recording, I have to acknowledge that it is just a “filler” for the real reason for Preiser Records releasing this CD.  The feature piece is an historic wartime (April 1944) recording of a performance of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major, KV 218, with the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Clemens Kraus, and Walter Barylli as soloist.  This was discovered by chance in 2006, in the archives of the Stiftung Deutches Rundfukarchiv by the Belgian physician and music-lover Professor Eric Derom. It is another example of Barylli’s immaculate playing.

For those interested in acquiring these historic recordings, they are available at Presto Classical. This link should take you straight to the relevant page.

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