Karl Böhm conducts Mozart Symphonies on Esoteric

The great German conductor Karl Böhm (1894/1981) came out of the war relatively unscathed. A couple of years banned, courtesy of the Allies' denazification project, and he was free and clear. Much like other German musicians used by the Nazis such as Strauss, Furtwängler and Karajan, Böhm dodged the proverbial bullet. 

Unlike his very musical colleague, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Böhm was more of the clicking heel, Prussian-type. 'You will do what I say, when I say.' Sure, most conductor's mantra. But, he said it so bloody often. Check his Don Juan rehearsal on YouTube with the hapless Vienna Philharmoniker. The great musicians don't get to play one phrase unscathed. In this day and age, most orchestras would have hauled him off the podium for utter boredom. Players love to learn, but they prefer to play. 

That said, Böhm has produced some fabulous recordings, including the best Wozzeck, superb Bruckner and these wonderful Mozart Symphonies. The Berg opera and the Mozart symphonies are original to DG, the latter with the Berliner Philharmoniker. We get 9 Mozart symphonies here, on three discs:

Symphony No. 25 in G minor, K. 183; Symphony No. 29 in A major, K. 201; Symphony No. 31 in D major, K. 297 “Paris”; Symphony No. 35 in D major, K. 385 “Haffner”; Symphony No. 36 in C major, K. 425 “Linz”; Symphony No. 38 in D major, K. 504 “Prague”; Symphony No. 39 in E flat major, K. 543; Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550; Symphony No. 41 in C major, K. 551 “Jupiter”

All the symphonies were recorded between 1959 and 1966 in the Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin and produced by legendary DGG producer, Otto Gerdes. 

While these Böhm recordings, at least in their original LP and DGG CD reissue releases, maintained some of the 'sheen' that Karajan loved so much, the team at Esoteric has managed to scrub some of the polish off and leave the original acoustic intact. The church always gave a lovely hue to the sound, but the DGG engineers always managed to remove the listener from the situation.  'Not too close to the maestro, please'. I sat behind Karajan at the Royal Albert Hall in the late 70s (Mahler 8 -- Philharmonia/Maazel), and he was so slight. I always imagined him a giant. 

Back to Böhm. I love his Mozart recordings and the Esoteric team, Producer Motoaki Ohmachi and Mastering Engineer Kazuie Sugimoto have taken a fine product and raised the level exponentially. I hear more of the instruments separated with real space in between solo instruments and instrumental sections (not congealed with spotlit solos). I'm not sure of the technical expertise required to do this, but I imagine the guys had access to the original master tapes. In any case, each symphony is lovingly prepared and you'll hear the Berliner Philharmoniker in all its glory.

From Esoteric:

The criterion of re-mastering is to faithfully capture the quality of the original master tapes. ESOTERIC’s flag ship D/A converters, model D-01VU, Rubidium master clock generator model G-0Rb and ESOTERIC MEXCEL interconnect cables and power cords, were all used for this re-mastering session. This combination of highly advanced technology greatly contributed to capturing the high quality sound of the original master tapes.

Packaging par excellence

Packaging par excellence

The performances are legendary.  They remain so, but in lovely, detailed sound. Listen to the string basses in the Finale of the Haffner (so fast and on all orchestral audition lists) or the opening 'scrubbing' violas in the G Minor and you'll hear separate instruments yet in perfect ensemble. Woodwinds occupy their own space, horns blend harmonically as Mozart intended. Even the trumpets in the Jupiter Finale make their own final rhythmic point clearly. 

Interpretively, Böhm is always on the slower (not slow) end of the mm. You will not get HIP practice, here, his heels don't click fast enough. But he does draw superlative playing. You wont get finer on disc.  

At CAD$299, this is a set for fans of superb digital reissues and super fans of Karl Böhm and/or Mozart. Notes (Japanese and English) are first rate and packaging is sublime. If you fall under any of the categories, you can splurge with confidence. A masterful set.