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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 12 in A, K414 [22:44]
Piano Concerto No. 13 in C, K415 [25:21]
Piano Concerto No. 14 in E flat, K449 [21:06]
Gottlieb Wallisch (piano)
Piatti Quartet
rec. 15-16 May 2012, Potton Hall, Suffolk, UK. DDD/DSD
LINN CKD424 [69:13]
 
Piano Concerto No. 13 in C, K415 [27:55]
Piano Concerto No. 12 in A, K414 [26:25]
Piano Concerto No. 14 in E flat, K449 [21:22]
Anne-Marie McDermott (piano)
Calder Quartet with David J. Grossman (bass, K449)
rec. Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, December 2012. DDD
BRIDGE RECORDS 9403 [75:52]

You may wonder at the validity of chamber versions of three of Mozart’s piano concertos but the composer not only authorised the present piano-plus-quartet arrangements; he made them himself and they sound right, especially when they are as skilfully played as here.  These concertos, plus No.11, K413, were among the earliest works that Mozart composed on his arrival in Vienna in 1783. The chamber-scale reductions resulted from his attempt to make the music more attractive to a publisher.
 
Both Dominy Clements and myself have already welcomed the Linn recording - review and Download News - but I’ve repeated its details here because it’s a direct competitor for the new Bridge recording. The other significant competition comes from a budget-price reissue on Hyperion Helios CDH55333, with Susan Tomes (piano) and five members of the Gaudier Ensemble, string quartet plus double bass. That Hyperion recording includes Nos.11-13; it’s unfortunate that the four concertos which Mozart authorised in this format won’t quite fit on one CD, but since it comes so inexpensively you might consider duplicating Nos. 12 and 23 and adding it to one of the new recordings. You’ll find my thoughts on it in the 2013/1 Download News; it can be downloaded from hyperion-records.co.uk for £5.99 and you should find the CD for just a little more.
 
Let me get one other consideration out of the way before comparing the two new recordings. Fans of period-instrument performance with the fortepiano as solo instrument may prefer, or even insist on Jos van Immerseel’s recordings, not with a quartet but with a small period ensemble, Musica Æterna: Nos. 8 and 12, with Rondo, K382 on Channel Classics CCS0690, Nos. 11, 13 and 14 on CCS0990. I’m not a lover of the fortepiano per se but CCS0990 has long been a treasured part of my CD collection.
 
The Bridge recording is very good. I put it on thinking to listen just while I drank a welcome coffee after returning from the weekly shopping and come back to it later. Instead I found myself unable or unwilling to take it off until I’d listened right through. I don’t recall having heard either Anne-Marie McDermott or the Calder Quartet before, and neither seems to have recorded Mozart before, but McDermott covers a very wide range, including award-winning performances of Bach and Gershwin. I see that Brian Reinhart thought her Chopin unusual, but enjoyable for its poetic qualities, and she brings those same qualities to bear in Mozart, combining vigour and delicacy.
 
With good support from the Quartet, plus David Grossman on bass in K449, and good recorded sound - rather close and benefiting from a reduction from normal volume - I could be very happy with the Bridge recording. There seems to be a fashion for cover images of the soloist looking pensive and slightly doubtful about her achievement - viz. the recent shot of Viktoria Mullova on the front of her Onyx CD of Bach Violin Concertos (ONYX4114) - but there’s no reason for McDermott or Mullova to be other than happy with her achievement.
 
Now you may sense that there’s a ‘but’; good as the Bridge recording is, the Linn is even better. It’s hard to say exactly why but the generally slightly brisker tempi and the fact that I listened to a 24-bit download, with its potentially superior sound over CD quality, have something to do with it. The Linn recording is available as a hybrid SACD and, from linnrecords.com, as a download in mp3, CD quality flac or alac, Studio Master 24/96 and 24/192 flac or alac.
 
In practice the differences in tempi, apparent on paper, are hardly noticeable. In some respects the Linn recording sounds a little more considered, a little less up-front than the Bridge and the balance between piano and quartet more natural. Both soloists lightly decorate the music without overdoing it. I’ve written that Susan Tomes on Hyperion and Howard Shelley with London Mozart Players on Chandos* achieve delicacy without fragility and that’s true of both the new recordings.
 
Both booklets are informative; both mention the connection, now generally accepted, between the development of the concerto form in Mozart’s hands with the give-and-take of opera.
 
If you buy the Linn SACD direct from their website for £12 (link above) or download in CD quality for £10, complete with booklet of notes, you should find that you’ve saved a little on the price of the Bridge recording. Studio Master from Linn will cost you rather more at £18.
 
Two very good new recordings, then, with the Linn just pipping the Bridge at the post as I call it; others may have it the other way round. If you would prefer to judge for yourself, the Linn recording can be streamed from Naxos Music Library - it’s well worth subscribing - and the Bridge should appear there soon. The Shelley recordings on Chandos are available there, too. Whichever you go for, I’d suggest adding either the Hyperion Helios recording of Nos. 11-13 or the Channel Classics of Nos. 11, 13 and 14. I’d also check out two earlier Linn CDs of Mozart’s solo piano works from Gottlieb Wallisch, CKD352 - August 2010 Download Roundup - and CKD407.
 
* Concertos Nos. 12 and 19 on Chandos CHAN9256; 13 and 24 on CHAN9326; 14 and 27 on CHAN9137.
 
Brian Wilson 

See also review by Dominy Clements of Linn recording

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