There are so many series of new Mozart concerto recordings being released at the moment. Two of the more traditional, but chamber-minded combinations, featuring Maurizio Pollini and Leif Ove Andsnes, have been under review recently. Having grown up loving the Mozart playing of Alicia de Larrocha with the English Chamber Orchestra, I still favor the historically informed performance (HIP) recordings by Academy of Ancient Music with Robert Levin on fortepiano. On this recent release of Mozart's last piano concerto, with which the composer gave his final appearance as soloist on March 4, 1791, Andreas Staier plays an excellent Christoph Kern reconstruction of an Anton Walter fortepiano.
Mozart, Last Concertos (K. 595 and 622), A. Staier, L. Coppola, Freiburger Barockorchester, G. von der Goltz
(released February 12, 2008)
Harmonia Mundi HMC 901980
It is the latest installment of a Mozart series by the Freiburger Barockorchester, not devoted exclusively to piano concerti, but following up on discs that include the flute and harp concerto and the wind concerti. The sound of the ensemble of 18th-century specialists is so rarefied (18 strings plus wind soloists on period instruments) that it melds seamlessly with the lighter tone of the fortepiano, as well as a reproduction of Anton Stadler's basset clarinet (or clarinette d'amour in A, by Agnès Guéroult) played with subtle attention to delicate colors by Lorenzo Coppola. His is one of the most satisfying performances of Mozart's truly exquisite clarinet concerto, one of the last pieces Mozart completed, although it was first sketched out a few years earlier. This disc is also unusual in that it relies on manuscript details for some of the interpretation. The clarinet concerto is an attempted reconstruction of the original basset clarinet version, and the piano concerto uses only a string quartet to accompany the soloist when the score is marked "solo" (as opposed to the marking of "tutti"), as well as original cadenzas by Andreas Staier.
While Daniel Barenboim is a great musician, his Mozart has always left me a little cold, a judgment that was reinforced while listening to the now cut-rate version of these two Mozart piano concerti. By comparison to the leanness of the Freiburg ensemble, Barenboim's tempi (he was both conductor and soloist) sound flabby, with the length of each movement in no. 27 exceeding Staier's timings by about a minute. Barenboim's take on no. 21 is pleasingly light-handed in the first movement (overall it is the more pleasing of the pair on this disc), but the famous second movement, marked Andante, is too sentimental, almost seeming stuck in molasses. One is reminded of the comments of René Jacobs about how familiarity with the score of Don Giovanni led to the gradual slowing of its most famous passages. The second movement of piano concerto no. 21 (K. 467) is likely the most famous of the Mozart canon, since its use in a film from which it has derived a nickname, and Barenboim's reading of it seems similarly burdened with accumulated nostalgia. Still, the playing, of both Barenboim and the English Chamber Orchestra, is able and sensitive, and Barenboim offers his own cadenzas, quite striking, for no. 21.
Mozart, K. 467 and 595, D. Barenboim, English Chamber Orchestra (1997)
Seraphim Classics 7243 5 73572 2 7
Jerusalem-born pianist David Greilsammer inaugurates what may turn out to be a complete traversal of the Mozart piano concerti, with the Suedama Ensemble (this disc is actually a re-release of an older recording with Vanguard Classics, to celebrate Greilsammer's new contract with Naïve). The instruments are not 18th-century ones, least of all the Hamburg Steinway under Greilsammer's fingertips. This set of three concertos (nos. 5, 6, and 8) are Mozart's first as an adult composer, dating from his late teenage years in Salzburg. (His first four concertos, from Mozart's early adolescence, are juvenile arrangements of other composers' music.) Of the 27 concertos left by Mozart, these three are some of the least often played, but Greilsammer approaches them with freshness and dedication to their attractive qualities, adding embellishments here and there and even replacing Mozart's cadenzas with his own.
Mozart, Early Piano Concertos (K. 175, 238, 246), D. Greilsammer, Suedama Ensemble
(released August 26, 2008)
Naïve V 5149
Greilsammer, who studied at Juilliard and with Richard Goode, has something of an obsession with Mozart, having played a one-day continuous marathon cycle of the Mozart sonatas in Paris earlier this year. He and the Suedama Ensemble, of which he is the artistic director, approach these youthful works with vibrancy, keeping the fast movements ebullient but not harried and the slow ones graceful but not static. Certainly, these are performances that show the early Mozart piano concertos in their best light. Greilsammer and the Suedama Ensemble will perform this fall (December 11) at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan. Mozart's 22nd piano concerto is on the program.