Josef Krips was one of those comfortable old slippers knocking around Vienna forever; he made dozens of records, many of them in the fifties, and although one reads critical praise for his Schubert, he never quite made the definitive recording of anything. It's indisputable that he was steeped in the echt Viennese style, and now that it has passed away, his recordings assume a secondary value aside from whether they are inspired or not.
Having let Krips slip form my mind decades ago, I welcomed a chance to revisit some of his output, most of it mono and well recorded by Decca, then a leader in the audio field.
CD 1: Although the Mozart Sym. 39 and 40 were made with the LSO, they sound viennese in their lyrical relaxation and naturalness. The first movement of the 39th will make you think Krips must be a maestro to contend with--it's absolutely wonderful, albeit old-fashioned (to me that's not a detraction). The Minuet is measured but doesn't lumber; the finale doesn't streak like lightning a la George Szell but is satisfying in its moderation. Close-up, clear mono gives way to more distant and brittle sound in the 40th, but the reading is comparable. So is the fine "Jupiter" Sym. with the Israel Phil. in serviceable stereo, but here the orchestra's lack of polish is rather telling.
CD 2: We stay with the LSO in early Fifties mono for the Brahms Fourth Symn. and the Dvorak Cello Concerto with Zara Nelsova (a great cellist also honored with her own Original Masters box set on Decca). Krips is often damned with the faiant praise of bieng "solid," and that's true of the Brahms. Everything goes well, but there's no special intensity or individuality. The telltale movement in this work is the tragic finale, and here Krips shows skill but lacks involvement. Decca's sonics are a bit buzzy in the woodwinds. The tape source for the Dvorak sounds worn to me, with crackle and hiss on the surface, although not to a damaging degree. Again Krips is solid (a bit stolid, actually), and his measured pacing seems to prevent nelsova from taking flight. Even so, her playing is a pleasure because she brings modesty and individualaity to her phrasing--there's no attempt to turn the recessive cello into a poerhouse.
CD 3: For a Viennese, Krips is spending a lot of time in London--we remain there for this whole CD, and just like almost everything else so far, the recording dates are between 1950-52. The Mozart "Paris" Sym. 31 has the identical distant sound as the Sym. 40; it's quite enjoyable in the same sensible vein as the previous Mozart readings. Don't expect the skyrocket runs in the first movement to create thrills and spills. We get another worn source for the Schubert "Unfinished" (they must have had to blow an inch of dust off them--Krips has never been reissued much). ONe can hear in this moderate but idiomatic performance why Krips' was esteemed in Schubert--he's genuinely tender and affecting here. With an easy glide we move into the Schumann Fourth, with no change in sonics and another skillful, moderate rendition. Actually, Krips adopts the same pacing as Furtwangler in his famous recording from about the same time for DG. It's fascinating to compare their styles, although Krips comes off the workman rather than the master.
CD 4: At last we arrive in Vienna and the recording dates move toward the mid-Fifties up to 1958. Soprano Inge borkh, probably the leading Straussian of her day, at least in heavier roles like Elektra and Salome, made a famous recording of the last scene from Salome on rCA with Reiner and the Chicago Sym. Here she duplicates that with the Vienna Phil., and again she's strikingly exciting. It's a shame the sosnics are mono since the orchestra is playing with exceptional vibrancy. Stereo crops up for a Tchaikovsky fifth from 1958, making it one of the latest recordings in this box set. The playing of the Vienna Phil. is cushy and plush (they accepted Krips as one of the original old boys), and the pacing is comfortable rather than dramatic. For me, however, the gorgeous playing and unusually fine sound make for one of the best things here. Just don't look for fireworks or Russian angst.
CD 5: We remain in Vienna for two Haydn symphonies in Stereo, No. 94 ("Surprise") and 99. These are genial, smiling readings on the order of Bruno Walter but without that extra snap and alertness. I like them veyr much for their charm, and Decca's sound is close up, clear, and natural. You can hear the VPO play Haydn in exactly the same way today; they keep his flame burning as no other orchestra does. Finally, back to London in 1953 for a Mendelssohn "Italian" Sym. that cana't help but be a letdown. It's strictly middle of the road without any added zest.
In all, I'd say that only the two Haydn symphonies and the Schubert "Unfinished" seemed completely first rate, but everything in the set was at least enjoyable. I was reminded that Krips was solid, as his reputation went, but that counted for more than I had remembered.