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The complete piano concertos
Recorded 1961-1969
Camerata Academica des Salzburger Mozarteums/Géza Anda
Collectors' edition
DG 469 510-2 (8 CDs) [609.46]
Crotchet  £49.95  Amazon UK    Amazon US

The prospect of ten hours of Mozart's piano concertos is attractive enough in itself. In the hands of that sublime Mozartian Géza Anda directing from the keyboard the orchestra of the composer's birthplace it becomes an even tastier one, and so, listening all day to wall-to-wall Mozart has been highly enjoyable. Anda (1921-1976) was a Swiss pianist of Hungarian birth who studied with Dohnanyi and Kodaly and made wartime debuts with both Mengelberg and Furtwängler. In 1952 he gave his first Salzburg Festival recital as well as his first concerto appearance there under Fricsay, after which he was a regular participant. In 1953 his recordings began to appear, first for Columbia and then those famous Bartók concertos for DG. For the same company he recorded all the Mozart piano concertos between 1961 and 1969, which are now available here as a boxed-set of eight CDs. And very fine they are too for he clearly loves the music.

Mozart's piano concertos are a paradox for via them we probably get both closest to and furthest away from the man himself. In the case of being the closest it is because they were largely written for himself, but because he was also such a genius it meant that he was able to improvise much of the piano part as he performed it, and therefore we have only a sketchy idea of what he played. We also know that they were the product of winter months, when the Courts were in town and (at Lent) the theatres closed. All 27 concertos cover the span of Mozart's life, from the first four written when he was eleven, to the last, dating from the year of his death, 1791. There is another curious statistic; he wrote no fewer than fifteen of them between 1782 and 1786, and of those, six alone appeared in one fruitful year (1784), but thereafter, as if inspiration had dried up (which it hadn't), only two more. Of the twenty-seven concertos there are a dozen which rarely get a hearing, namely the first thirteen apart from the ninth. There is also a slight taint to these very early ones, for they either already existed in another format (often solo piano sonata movements) or they were reworkings (if undoubtedly superior ones) of the works of other composers, such as Raupach, Honauer, Schobert, and Eckart - none of them names which spring readily from the lips. Mozart tended to use his piano concertos as utility works, a relatively effortless way of coming up with music for a particularly function. If derived from elsewhere, whether his own works or those of others, he would take the originals and pad them out with his own orchestral introductions, developments and postludes. None of this detracts from their enjoyment, however short they are (and the first four only take between twelve and sixteen minutes each to play), and certainly not when they are played in such a fresh way as these performances by Anda and the warm-toned strings of the Camerata. A fine example is the slow movement of the second concerto, reminiscent of a jollier version of the now-so-called Elvira Madigan andante in No. 21.

Throughout the set Anda provides his own cadenzas where Mozart did not, but it is the composer's unending stream of melody which dominates all these works. The style of piano writing is largely confined to two parts: a running right hand and relatively simple chords or implied harmonies in arpeggiated form in the left. There was a simple reason for this and that was to circumvent the unstable tuning of the pianos of the day (poor tuning is highlighted more in chords than in linear writing). Most of them are written for an orchestra of strings, oboes, horns and bassoons, which makes Nos. 22-24 (1785-86) all the more wondrous with the inclusion of a flute and clarinets (curiously there are also three symphonies with clarinets). For this reviewer the slow movement of No. 22 in E flat (K.482) is nothing short of heaven on earth not least due to Anda's lyrical playing and the wide palette of tonal colour produced by the Camerata's wind players. This boxed-set is material for a desert island sojourn of any duration. Enjoy them.

Christopher Fifield

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