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The “Beady-Eyed” Beethoven Guy Is Back!

Jed Distler

Artistic Quality:

Sound Quality:

The Austrian pianist Friedrich Wührer (1900-1975) was a mainstay of the Vox label’s early mono LP catalog, largely in the Austro/German repertoire, yet also taking on the Tchaikovsky First and Second concertos, the Prokofiev Third concerto, and even Anton Rubinstein’s Fourth. In this sense he was an older counterpart to Westminster’s Paul Badura-Skoda and Jörg Demus. My late colleague Harris Goldsmith disparaged Wührer’s Schubert as “tight-lipped and beady-eyed”. These words apply to his solo work throughout Beethoven’s Second concerto, particularly in the Rondo’s plodding and square-toed phrasing. Nor does Wührer’s tinkly note-spinning in the slow movement come close to the breadth and shapely inflections you hear in rival mono-era versions from Rudolf Serkin and Wilhelm Kempff.

Wührer’s dynamic range opens up a bit in Beethoven’s first-movement cadenza (an inspired piece of writing dating from the composer’s late period), yet his rigidly held dotted rhythms lack the forward surging of Kapell and Schnabel. Wührer’s overly literal and pounded-out first and second movements in the Third concerto never were competitive in the face of early catalog competition from Benno Moiseiwitsch, Rudolf Serkin, Clara Haskil, and Edwin Fischer.

Walther Davisson and the Pro Musica Orchestra Stuttgart provide good workmanlike support, with less seedy first-desk woodwind playing than you’d expect from this source. Certainly Vox’s new high-definition remastering improves upon the ratty old vinyl copy I found for 59 cents at Goodwill, although the sound never was any great shakes to begin with. It would have been better had Vox reissued some of Wührer’s best recordings (the Schumann Sonata No. 3, the Dvorák Concerto, the last three Beethoven sonatas), and let this sleeping dog lie.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Concerto No. 2: Fleisher/Szell (Sony), Concerto No. 3: Rubinstein/Leinsdorf (RCA)

    Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major Op. 19; Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor Op. 37

    Soloists: Friedrich Wührer (piano)

    Pro Musica Orchestra Stuttgart, Walther Davisson

  • Record Label: Vox - 3003
  • Medium: CD

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