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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 13 in C major, K415 (1783)
Piano Concerto No. 14 in E flat major, K449 (1784)
Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K488 (1786)
Maria João Pires (piano)
Orchestre de la Fondation Gulbenkian de Lisbonne/Theodor Guschlbauer
Rec July 1973, May 1974, Théâtre San Carlos, Lisbon
WARNER APEX 2564 60448 2 [75.51]

During Mozartís golden final ten years in Vienna, the piano concerto was his chosen vehicle for presenting himself simultaneously to his Viennese public as both composer and performer. And no-one has since surpassed his achievement as a composer of piano concertos. Between 1782 and 1791 he wrote the concertos Nos. 11 to 27, using the formal three-movement approach that had already become established among his contemporaries, and in the concertos he had already composed while based at Salzburg. If this suggests a formula, it is only to the extent that all the best formulae in music work because of their endless possibilities. For as the disc confirms, each Mozart concerto has its own personality.

The earliest of the three pieces is the C major Concerto, No. 13, K415. This has the pomp of trumpets and drums, which immediately come to the fore in the initial tutti when the principal themes are paraded. The recorded sound is at its best here, and all credit to the conductor, Theodor Guschlbauer, for his choice of tempo which moves the music along while allowing the phrases to breathe. Maria João Pires proves an imperious soloist, totally in command. But it is in the slow movement, a tender Andante, that her talents emerge most tellingly, with a sensitive response to Mozartís unique expression.

These strengths are felt elsewhere, although the recorded sound lacks the subtlety of more recent issues, by the likes of Alfred Brendel (Philips) or Murray Perahia (Sony). The E flat Concerto, No. 14, K449, is more tense than either of its fellows on this disc, and there is a strong sense of teamwork in the performance. This is a piece that uses a smaller orchestra of strings with oboes, bassoons and horns, but that does not restrict its dramatic intensity. The drawback is that the string sound is less subtle in its sound quality than might be ideal. Whether this is an issue of recording of ensemble playing is difficult to tell, but the sound is not always right, sometimes lacking body and focus.

The A major Concerto, No. 23, K488, is one of the glories of Mozartís instrumental compositions. The scoring changes the character of the experience, with flute and clarinets replacing the customary oboes, while there are no trumpets and drums. The results are warmly lyrical, though in the finale the rhythmic drive is as compelling as in any Mozart composition. The slow movement is extraordinarily beautiful, but while Pires has a clear and unfussy approach, the results are not quite as effective as, say, Brendel or Perahia (to repeat the two recommendations already mentioned). Aside from these slight doubts, the flow is entirely natural, and there is much to enjoy.

All too often budget issues compromise when there is no need to do so. The design and content of booklets seems a frequent target for misjudgements, and so it proves here. For the badly planned booklet manages to combine extremely small print with three completely blank pages, nor is there any biographical information about the artists.

A generous compilation of three wonderful Mozart piano concertos, played by a major pianist, and all at bargain price. Whatever caveats a reviewer may have, those facts remain a compelling inducement for the potential purchaser.

Terry Barfoot

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