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More Mozart Concerti

available at Amazon
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 available at Amazon
Vol. 1
available at Amazon
Vol. 2
Online scores: Neue Mozart-Ausgabe
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. 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. 59'23"
available at Amazon
Mozart, K. 467 and 595, D. Barenboim, English Chamber Orchestra
(1997) Seraphim Classics 7243 5 73572 2 7
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. 63'22"
available at Amazon
Mozart, Early Piano Concertos (K. 175, 238, 246), D. Greilsammer, Suedama Ensemble
(released August 26, 2008) Naïve V 5149
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. 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. 62'05"


Anonymous said...

1)I'd be interested to know (if you've heard any of it) your impressions of the two new Abbado releases with Orchestra Mozart--the violin concertos with Carmagnola on one set and five of the later symphonies on the other.
(my own impression, after a couple of listens, is that the concertos are better and that both releases were worth buying, but not necessarily a "must have".

2) Is there a currently available complete cycle of the piano concertos that you would recommend?

Charles T. Downey said...

Well, the discography is so vast, and there is no perfect answer about a complete set, as I see it. (Others are invited to offer their opinions.) My preferred versions are the Robert Levin-Christopher Hogwood recordings on L'Oiseau-Lyre, but not all are easily available (some here). Now that the label has been resurrected, a complete set re-release is hopefully on the way.

Philips has a nice mixed set as part of its Complete Mozart, with various performers including Ton Koopman, the Labèque sisters, Alfred Brendel, and others. Among the cheaper sets are Jénö Jandó (Naxos, but you buy them one by one), Murray Perahia (Sony), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Decca), and generally the lowest priced, Daniel Barenboim (EMI). They are all good, but I have not spent enough time comparing them meticulously to recommend one definitively. All are good choices for the more conventional Mozart listener, with my preference going generally to Perahia. As I said, I also have fond memories of listening to Alicia de Larrocha (RCA), but she did not record all of them.

jfl said...

Complete sets of the piano concertos that are truly excellent include (very roughly in order of my preference):

Buchbinder / Vienna Symphony Orchestra (Haenssler Profil)

Schiff / Vegh / Salzburg Camerata, Decca (Import)

Perahia / ECO, Sony

Uchida / Tate / ECO, Philips

Levin is obviously an acquired taste, as would be Bilson / Gardiner (which is readily available, but I too would prefer Levin among forte-pianists).

The Rudolf Serkin / Claudio Abbado set is incomplete, but contains all the (15) more important concertos.

Like Charles I am not a big fan of the EMI Barenboim set -- and the Teldec set I don't know well enough. Ashkenazy I only know a few concertos with, also - but while fine, none have suggested as "Mozartean" a touch as the above mentioned. Brendel, love him as I do in concert, strikes me as too bland (bordering dull) in some of these works on the Philips set. Derek Han on Brilliant (exists in at least 5 different versions) I have heard unflattering things about. Kirschnereit/Beermann on Arte Nova have gotten rather kind reviews.

Unlike many other "sets" of music, there is no compelling reason not to get a complete Mozart Piano Concerto cycle, because there are so many utterly satisfactory ones out there.

But once that hole is plugged, there are many delicious performances out there on single discs... Haskil, Curzon, Serkin, Pires et al.

Charles T. Downey said...

Uchida's Mozart is impeccable, but her set is not really complete, although it is missing only the four early, truthfully not all that interesting concertos (1-4), 7 and 10 (for 3 and 2 pianos), and 27. There are similar completists' reservations for Buchbinder and Schiff (missing 1-4, 7, 10) -- both of which I need to get to know better, especially the former, as Jens recommends it so highly.

That's why, set-wise, the Perahia seems the best one to me, as it has all 27 concertos, with the added bonus of having Radu Lapu join Perahia in nos. 7 and 10.

Charles T. Downey said...

As for Kishnevi's first question, about the Abbado releases, I have not listened to them yet. (I did read this review of the violin concerti disc.)

Jens may be planning to comment on them?

jfl said...

I am getting the Abbado discs with some delay, so while I probably will get around to it, it won't be before Thanksgiving, or so.

Technically, 1-4 are not really Mozart Piano Concertos, they are arrangements of other composers' works (sonatas, I think)...

Uchida does have 595 (#27 in her set).

Since Lupu/Perahia for 2 & 3 Piano PCs (7 / 10) can be had individually, and the early ones with Perahia as well, complete-completing the Buchbinder, Uchida, or Schiff cycles is easy enough. Not that Charles would, but none of them should be dismissed on account of not including these very minor works.

Forgot to mention earlier: Among single discs the Goode/Orpheus collaborations are delectable, too.

Charles T. Downey said...


Anonymous said...

we really desperately need a modern-instrument cycle of the complete Mozart concertos that has the same vitality and stylishness that Andreas Staier and Concerto Koln brought to the four concertos they recorded some years ago.

Greilsammer's performances are promising, but the orchestra is not muscular enough for my taste. Mozart should be muscular and strange, to get a proper contrast with his lyrical side. Still, the Greilsammer is quite fine, despite this lack.

For my money the Jonathan Biss/Orpheus collaboration holds real promise, if both soloist and Orchestra would take more chances, and really dig into the music..resisting the temptation to cruise through it. Biss is a great player, and Orpheus is Orpheus...let's hope they do more.

I really wish Staier and Koln would record all the mozart concertos, but I doubt that'll ever happen. The recording you review here, of #27, was, for me, something of a disaster, compared Staier's earlier work with Concerto Koln. Balances are really fouled up, the Orchestra sounds terrible (not typical of this band), and Staier sounds like he was recorded from five miles away. A mess, in short.

Mozart piano concertos continue to be a real problem for even our greatest musicians, imho.

(apropos of which, the Uchida set is awful. I can't imagine how anyone can tolerate, let along enjoy, her precious, affected approach for more than about 10 seconds. And Tate and the ECO sound as if they're all on barbiturates. It's a set for people who haven't the faintest idea of how Mozart is supposed to sound. Same for Barenboim and, a bit less so, for Perahia. Ugh.)

Oddly, I'm still fond of the Anda/Mozarteum set, and more, of the Brendel/ASMF set, although I wish Brendel had recorded with someone else.

But we're lacking something really amazing in this department. Alas.

Ron Mansfield said...

Another vote for the Robert Levin-Christopher Hogwood fortepiano recordings as my favorite cycle of the piano concertos (K. 175 and K. 271 are stunning in the series) shame they didn't get to record all of the concertos though. Andreas Staier's concerto No. 27 with the Freiburger Barockorchester is also wonderful; the entire FBO Mozart series on Harmoni Mundi are favorites of mine. With a few exceptions, The Florestan Trio's excellent Piano Trios being an example, I much prefer Historically informed performance (HIP) recordings of Mozart. Duo Amadè's Mozart's Violin Sonatas with Catherine Mackintosh and Geoffrey Govier are superb HIP recordings, the gold standard of the violin sonatas IMHO. Kristian Bezuidenhout's cycle of the Piano Sonatas is another favorite of mine as well.