Wilhelm Backhaus / Carl Schuricht

Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 2; Beethoven: Symphony No. 1

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For fans of conductor Carl Schuricht who are not too particular about either the quality of the performances or the quality of the recoding, this disc will do...just about. Featuring Brahms' Second Piano Concerto with Wilhelm Backhaus backed by the Orchestra della Radio Svizzera Italiana from 1958 and Beethoven's First Symphony with the Wiener Philharmoniker from 1952, the sound is, in a word, lousy. Taken from what seem to be dimly recorded and badly scratched LPs, the sound is cramped, gray, brittle, and dull, with little to nothing done to make it more palatable for modern listeners. The performances themselves are better than the recordings, but not by much. Backhaus was one of the great mid-20th century German pianists, but though his interpretations were often heartfelt and probing, his performances were often blighted with technical flaws, and this Brahms' Second has far more than its share. On top of that, Backhaus and Schuricht do not sound like they agree on how to approach the piece, and when the pianist pushes ahead, the conductor pulls back, and vice versa. The Italian Swiss orchestra sounds like its out of its league and too much of the playing sounds ad hoc. The performance of Beethoven's First is better -- the Vienna musicians could play this work in their sleep and Schuricht seems more comfortable -- but the sound is much worse.

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