Josef Krips, musician at heart and friend of Montreal

Josef Krips, musician at heart and friend of Montreal
Josef Krips, musician at heart and friend of Montreal

On the occasion of the 50e anniversary of the death of the Austrian chef Josef Krips, in October 1974, Universal Australia published in two Decca Eloquence box sets the largely forgotten legacy of the man who had titled his autobiography No music without love. Not only have we somewhat neglected the memory of Josef Krips, compared to chefs such as Karl Böhm, Eugen Jochum or Bruno Walter, but we have also forgotten to what extent he appreciated Montreal.

35 years ago, a few years after the birth of the compact disc and the arrival of the first series of economical reissues, Josef Krips was a symbol of Mozartian elegance. We rediscovered, as a sort of reference, his late recordings (1972-1973) of Mozart’s great symphonies with the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra, his discographic testament.

Variable destiny

Our own enthusiasm as a young critic earned us a quote in the French version of Krips’ autobiography, No music without lovepublished on the occasion of the 25e anniversary of his death at Éditions Saint-Augustin: “The readability, the softness, the tranquility resonate in our ears like nowhere else, with an architectural perfection, a sense of balance which seems naturally obvious to us. If we had to give a subtitle to this collection, we would undoubtedly speak of “sense of light”. From this architectural and sonic clarity is born our desire to return there often. »

Other reissues have since shown that Rudolf Kempe, Otto Klemperer, sometimes, as well as Karl Böhm, in his disc from the end of the 1950s with the same Concertgebouw Orchestra, shared with Krips this light, the highlighting of the woodwinds and the natural fluidity of the tempos compared to the heavier or string-obstructed versions that were current at the time.

The interest of buyers, from the 1990s, turning exclusively to recordings on old instruments in Mozart, Krips fell back into oblivion. Also, around twenty years ago, his name was almost only associated with one thing: a complete set of Beethoven’s symphonies with the London Symphony Orchestra which could be found for $10 at Dollarama and others. stores like this. Engraved on 35 mm tapes for Everest and licensed everywhere, it does not do justice to this leader.

Now, by typing Josef Krips on Google, we come across a file with the indication “Album” (in the singular!): Don Giovanni. On the one hand, this is justice, because it reconnects Krips and Mozart and underlines the timelessness of one of his greatest recordings: the legendary Don Giovanni with the immense Cesare Siepi in the title role. The recording, which appears in 2e box set of these reissues, is historic in every sense of the word. Engraved in June 1955, this Don Giovanni was one of the first stereos from Decca engineers. It should be noted in this regard that Decca recorded two Mozart operas for History in the 1950s: The Marriage of Figaro directed by Erich Kleiber and this Don Giovanni. A little behind the Cosientrusted to Karl Böhm, and The kidnapping from the seraglioalso directed by Krips included in the 1er of these two boxes.

Letter to Trudeau

With a 22-CD box set bringing together recordings from the period 1947-1955 and a 21-CD box set from 1955 to 1973, Eloquence Australia opens up unexpected perspectives on the legacy of this conductor.

Let’s summarize: 40 years ago, Krips was a Mozartian authority; 20 years ago, he supplied Beethoven at a discount and today, we see that he recorded a 4e of titanic Beethoven in Amsterdam in 1953 (box set I), that his monophonic legacy with the London Symphony Orchestra is as plethoric as it is little-known and that he has recorded a splendid 5e Symphony by Tchaikovsky with the Vienna Philharmonic in 1958 (box set II)!

The presentation of these boxes gives us a quick opportunity to respond to a frequent request from readers: where can we obtain records when the well-known local brand does not meet the demand? The answer involves competition between online sources from various countries: the well-known giant of online sales, here or elsewhere, of course, but also classic specialist brands, or very effective generalists, such as Presto in the United Kingdom, JPC in Germany, HMV in Japan, Buywell in Australia and Arkiv in the United States. Initially local (especially accessible at Buywell), the Eloquence publications have, for more than a decade, due to their interest, attracted the attention of all the serious brands which now distribute them.

Taking an interest in Josef Krips is also remembering the true attachment he had for Montreal. “In February 1953 came my debut in America. It was in Montreal. The orchestra was not yet among the best. And yet I found great enthusiasm there, not only among the public, but also among the musicians. I understand why other guest conductors like Monteux, Munch and Klemperer believed in the future of this orchestra, to the development of which Pierre Béique contributed in an important way,” he writes in his biography.

Béique’s opinion on Krips, which the conductor mentions later in his biography, is very interesting: “The five major American orchestras should all take you at least six weeks at the start of each season. That way, they would play even better.” And Krips asks himself: “So it wasn’t just singers that I was good at, but also orchestras. What is the word for repeater? There I heard for the first time the expression “doctor for orchestra”. It’s true ; a doctor, we send him back when the patient is cured! »

Krips, an OSM loyalist, includes in his work a letter written to Pierre Elliott Trudeau in 1973 when the OSM was in bad financial shape. It reads: “Real music […] is not entertainment, it brings elevation and consolation. The Vienna Philharmonic, we call it the heart of the city. By abandoning its orchestra, Montreal would lose its soul. »


Volume 1 of the Australian reissues surprises with the number of monophonic recordings with the London Symphony. The conductor’s measured calm is striking in Mozart, Haydn, Schubert. Nothing is heavy, but everything is laid out, clearly articulated, structured. It’s good-natured and framed, but not sparkling. Krips the classic in London disappoints a little.

The drama suits him better, and we discover a more tense conductor who operates through a sort of orchestral “mixing” (Unfinished by Schubert or 4e by Brahms in 1950, 4e by Schumann almost impatiently from 1952). What disappoints, here and there, is the technique: Decca’s monophonies are dynamic, but often quite opaque, lacking airiness and sparkle in the high frequencies, unless the remastering has cut that. Voice recordings (Elijah by Mendelssohn — in English — and Requiem by Mozart) have aged poorly.

The two boxes document a flagship work in the repertoire that Krips conducted in Montreal: the 9e Symphony by Schubert. In the 1er box set, the version with the Concertgebouw in 1952 is post-Mozartian. In the 2e box set, the London engraving from November 1958, much more powerful, is (with the 4e by Beethoven in Amsterdam in 1953 from the box set I) the greatest revelation of the two boxes combined.

Overall, the 2e box set (1955-1973) is the priority, because the “hits” of Krips (4e by Schumann, 9e by Schubert) are re-recorded in stereo with a London Symphony more accustomed to its way. Obviously, with 8 CDs of Symphonies nbone 21-41 of Mozart, more Don Giovanni, it is also the one which contains the most known documents. Rarities are a 1D of Brahms, the 5e by Tchaikovsky, a remarkable CD of Viennese waltzes (as in box set I elsewhere) and the Symphonies nbone 94 And 99 by Haydn in Vienna, as well as Mozart in mono with the Israel Philharmonic.

We finally find this unexpected Song of the earth revealed a few years ago, a unique moment bringing together Fritz Wunderlich and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in Vienna in 1964 during a festival that the chef had just opened with the 8e Symphony by Mahler. The passion and warmth of Josef Krips were as important to document as the vocal performances of these singing legends. Krips always a servant, always in the shadows…

Josef Krips Edition

Volume 1: 1947-1955. Decca Eloquence, mono, 22 CDs, 484 4780.

Volume 2: 1955-1973. Decca Eloquence, stereo (1 mono), 21 CD, 484 4829.

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