JOSEF KRIPS, who died in the fall of 1974 at the age of 72, was neither a glamorous figure nor one of the most popular conductors of his generation, though he was enormously revered by his fellow musicians. It was Krips who was regarded as the savior of the Vienna State Opera after World War II (he had been forced out of his position there at the time of the Anschluss ), and he is spoken of with becoming reverence and affection by Zubin Mehta and other younger musicians who were students in Vienna at the time Krips was active there as conductor and pedagogue.
Krips' American experience, first as conductor of the Buffalo Philharmonic and then of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, added no luster to his reputation, and his recorded legacy has been viewed as both sparse and uneven. In the early days of microgroove, he recorded a Freischuetz and a Seraglio in Vienna for London/. Decca which were regarded as solid and serviceable but were readily superseded by the next versions of the respective works that came along. For the same label he did some Mozart, Schubert and Haydn symphonies with the London Symphony Orchestra (of which he was chief conductor from 1950 to 1952), and more memorable accounts of the Beethoven Fourth and Schubert C-Major with the Concertgebouw Orchestra.
All these are gone from the American catalogue now, in which Krips is represented by some so-so recordings with lesser orchestras for smaller European labels, but also, on London, by the fine early stereo Don Giovanni and an exceptional Strauss waltz collection, both with the vienna Philharmonic, a splendid remake of the big Schubert Symphony with the LSO and a surprisingly vivid Tchaikovsky Fifth, again with the Philharmoniker , that would have been one of the great ones if not for the abrupt change in the level that the tape editors allowed to pass midway through the finale.
Krips' valedictory effort for the phonograph, completed in Amsterdam only a few months before his death, was a series of the last 20 symphonies of Mozart with the Concertgebouw Orchestra. Philips has only now got round to releasing the first three discs in this project, and they should enhance Krips' stature considerably among listeners who never heard him in person. Indeed, they are distinguished additions to the vast Mozart discography as well as to the smaller one of Krips himself, and would have been sufficient to certify him as one of the great Mozart conductors if he had made no other recordings at all.
On Philips 6500.430 are the great E-flat and G minor symphonies (Nos. 39 and 40, K. 543 and 550, respectively). One hesitates to declare these performances "the best," because there are several equally stylish and more dramatic accounts of these familiar works, but none are, overall, more convincing than these, or more thoroughly musical. Here the mellow majesty of the E-flat and the angelic pathos of the G minor make themselves felt without any consciousness of an interpretive middleman, in performances that are aristocratic but not austere, expressive without any gratuitous overlay of emotion.
More remarkable are the two disc of earlier symphonies - Nos. 22 in C (K. 162), 27 in G (D. 199) and 29 in A (K. 201) on 6500.528, and Nos. 24 through 26 (B-flat, G minor and E-flat respectively, K. 182-184) on 6500.529. The greatest of these works, No. 29, has not been presented so persuasively since the unforgettable debut disc of Peter Maag, more than 25 years ago; and the slight but enchanting No. 27 in Krips' hands rivals the elegance of the similarly memorable old Beecham 78s. The driving fury of Solti's version of the "Little G-minor" (another long-deleted mono) is not to be found in Krips' reading, but Krips perceived a different sort of drama in this score, and on its own scale it is no less compelling. The three remaining symphonies, all more or less in the Italian overture mold, emerge here with not only more charm but more substance than in any previous recordings, and throughout this superb series both the great Dutch orchestra and the Philips engineers are represented at their formidable best.
Philips is currently releasing three more of these discs. We can be grateful that the company has opted to issue these records individually instead of offering them in a costly multi-disc set. Of the first three records in the series, at least the two described in the preceding paragraph may be described without hyperbole as essential, for not one of the performance engraved thereon is matched by any of the current competition.