Saturday, May 29, 2010

Sunday Classics Preview: Does anybody actually remember "Elvira Madigan"?


Part 1 (of 9) of Elvira Madigan. The opening strains of the Andante of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21, K. 467, are heard at 2:46.

by Ken

You can actually watch all of Elvira Madigan on YouTube, though I can't think why you'd want to. I recall the 1967 film as seriously tedious, despite its brilliantly effective use of the slow movement of Mozart's 21st Piano Concerto, K. 467, as the backdrop for the romantic idyll embedded in it.

I don't know whether it was superior taste, dumb luck, or something in between that led director Bo Widerberg to use the recording of the concerto played and conducted by Géza Anda, from his DG cycle-in-progress of the complete Mozart piano concertos with the Salzburg Mozarteum orchestra (begun in 1961, but not completed until 1969), but it was an inspired choice. While any other performance would likely have served the purpose, Anda's performance has a glow that makes it special even by the standard of the best of the considerable competition. I have to believe that its distinctive quality had something to do with the way the film and the concerto exploded in the cultural consciousness.

Anda was hardly an obvious candidate to record the Mozart concertos. Before this project, he was known at the time as a Romantic specialist. (We just heard him play some lovely Chopin.) And I'm not sure that all those music lovers have ever caught up with the achievement of that cycle, which deals as richly and satisfyingly with this remarkable body of music as I can imagine any one performer doing. There's drama and poetry and passion and an abundance of sheer joy. It would still be my first choice for a set of the complete Mozart piano concertos, as I write, there's an vendor selling the eight-CD setfor a trifling $32.85 (plus shipping).

It was thinking about Anda's recordings of K. 467 that set me on course to writing about the concerto. Mozart's piano concertos have been near the top of my to-do list since I began writing these pieces, but the subject has always seemed too immense. We've even jumped ahead and done some preliminary exploring of the Mozart concertos' direct descendant's, Beethoven's five piano concertos.

In the course of doing some long-deferred CD reshelving this week, I found myself staring at the CD edition of Anda's later recording of Concertos Nos. 20 and 21 -- for Eurodisc, during the brief heyday of "quadriphonic" recording, again conducting as well as playing, with the Vienna Symphony. (Inexpensive used copies of the same performances can be found in a different CD issue.) It occurred to me that if we were to focus on K. 467, the subject might be doable. That doesn't mean we're going to be listening to just K. 467 tomorrow, but maintaining the focus on it will keep us within manageable bounds.

For tonight, our business is nothing but this amazing slow movement, which we'll hear first in the Anda-DG recording used in the film, and then in a somewhat quicker performance by Arthur Rubinstein and finally in a broader one (I don't think there's any question that in the post-Elvira Madigan era performances have tended to broaden) by Daniel Barenboim.

MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 21 in C, K. 467:
ii. Andante

Camerata Academica of the Salzburg Mozarteum, Géza Anda, piano and cond. DG, recorded May 1961

Arthur Rubinstein, piano; RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra, Alfred Wallenstein, cond. RCA/BMG, recorded in New York, Apr. 1, 1961

Berlin Philharmonic, Daniel Barenboim, piano and cond. Teldec, recorded November 1986


As indicated, we're going to be focusing on Mozart's 21st Piano Concerto, but naturally we'll also be listening to its fraternal twin, the D minor Concerto, No. 20 -- and also its predecessor, the F major Concerto, No. 19.


The brand-new updated version of the list is here.

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At 9:22 PM, Blogger woid said...

The only thing I remember about "Elvira Madigan," which I've never seen, is that it was released in the U.S. at the same time as a hard-boiled detective movie called "Madigan," starring Richard Widmark and directed by Don Siegel. Supposedly, a lot of blue-haired ladies who thought they were going to see soft-focus Mozart-accompanied boating scenes ended up at the wrong theatre.

At 9:28 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

LOL, woid! Yes, Madigan and Elvira M were rather different undertakings, and probably didn't share a lot of target audience. That would have been one mighty unpleasant "old switcheroo" for any movie-goer who got it wrong, going in either direction.


At 9:49 PM, Anonymous DeanOR said...

I do remember it as exquisitely beautiful nature images, accompanied by fine music, not tedious at all. It impressed me very positively at the time, and I've never forgotten it, although I could not have told you the title.

At 11:19 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Hmm, Dean. "Exquisitely beautiful nature images, accompanied by fine music" doesn't sound like my idea of a lively time at the movies. It sounds to me almost like a setup for tedium, especially in a film telling a tale of adultery and murder-suicide.



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