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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No.12 in A, K414 [23:54]
Piano Concerto No.11 in F, K413 [20:49]
Piano Concerto No.13 in C, K415 [24:44]
Kristian Bezuidenhout (fortepiano)
Freiburger Barockorchester/Gottfried von der Goltz
rec. Ensemblehaus Freiburg, 15-17 November 2014
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC902218 [69:27]

Reviewed as 24-bit download with pdf booklet from eclassical.com.

Piano Concerto No.13 in C, K415/387B [26:59]
Piano Concerto No.5 in D, K175 [20:30]
Piano Concerto No.25 in C, K503 [29:43]
Olivier Cavé (piano)
Divertissement/Rinaldo Alessandrini
rec. Studio Dinemec (Switzerland), 1-7 September 2014. DDD.
ALPHA 243 [77:14]

Reviewed as CD and 24-bit download with pdf booklet from eclassical.com.

The four keyboard concertos which Mozart wrote on arrival in Vienna in 1782/3 are becoming quite popular, with almost 100 available recordings of K415. No single-CD recording can encompass all four concertos but three of them, as on the Harmonia Mundi release, offer a popular choice. I reviewed two recordings of Nos. 12-14 some time ago, in the piano + string quintet alternatives which Mozart published, from Anne-Marie McDermott and the Calder Quartet (Bridge) and Gottlieb Wallich and the Platti Quartet (Linn CKD424, SACD), slightly preferring the latter. You can find some other combinations in that review, including Susan Tomes in the same coupling as on the new Harmonia Mundi (Hyperion Helios CDH55333) or, for those who prefer the fortepiano and period instruments, Jos van Immerseel and Anima Eterna (Channel Classics: Nos. 8, 12 and Rondo, K382, CCS0690; 11, 13 and 14 CCS0990). The Hyperion CD has reverted from budget- to full-price but some dealers may still have it for around Ł6.50. The fortepiano recordings of these concertos which Ronald Brautigam made for BIS are detailed below.

Now Harmonia Mundi bring us a new recording of K413-K415 on the fortepiano and period instruments to compete with Immerseel and his team, while Alpha release just K415 with concertos from earlier and later in Mozart’s career, performed on the piano and modern instruments but directed by a period-performance specialist. It’s easy enough for a reviewer with access to these and the earlier recordings to say that I find much to enjoy in all of them – which is certainly true – but I’m equally aware that most of you will have to choose, unless, of course, you decide to subscribe to a good streaming service.

I’ll begin with the new Alpha release and start by settling any doubts that Rinaldo Alessandrini may bring to Mozart the kind of very energetic direction which he does to mainly Italian baroque music. Much as I enjoy his Vivaldi, he and Olivier Cavé bring a much more relaxed touch to Mozart. I almost wrote ‘conventional’ but that would be to ignore their recording of the 17-year-old composer’s first independent keyboard concerto – Nos. 1-4 were arrangements of other works. The early symphonies often sound like the early works that they are, but K175 in this performance sounds much more like the real deal. With equally convincing, if not especially exceptional, accounts of the two later works, this Alpha recording is well worth considering if the coupling appeals, with Olivier Cavé demonstrating the same fluent and nimble finger-work that he reportedly brought to an earlier recording of Scarlatti and Haydn for Aeon, another Outhere Group company.

It has to be admitted that the combination of early and later works makes choice difficult, but that’s true of many of the recommendable accounts of Mozart’s keyboard concertos, whether with the piano or the fortepiano solo. The Alpha release makes a positive virtue of containing concertos ranging ‘from youth to maturity’.

Just to take No.14, K449, the fourth member of the 1782/3 set, which you may well wish also to add to your collection, there are very fine accounts from Janina Fialowskaja (chamber version, with Concerto No.13, and Eine kleine Nachtmusik, Atma – Download News 2013/2), Daniel Barenboim (Nos. 11, 14 and 15, Warner Elatus, mid-price, download only), Ronald Brautigam (fortepiano, with No.21, BIS), Alfred Brendel (with Concerto No.9 and Piano Sonata No.8, Alto budget-price: Bargain of the Month) and Howard Shelley (with No.27, Chandos).

The many fans of Ivan Moravec, perhaps inspired by his recording of Sonata No.13 (K333) on his Twelfth Night Recital (Supraphon SU41902 – Recording of the Month) should be aware of his recording of Nos. 14 (K449), 23 (K488) and 25 (K503) with the Czech Chamber Orchestra and Vaclav Neumann on Supraphon SU38092. Released in 2012 but recorded much earlier, the performance and sound are still competitive at upper mid-price. By comparison with the likes of Brautigam Moravec may linger a little too long in the andantino slow movement of No.14 – slower even than Denis Mathews and Rudolf Schwarz (1954) on Naxos Classical Archives – but that didn’t unduly spoil my enjoyment.

Kristian Bezuidenhout’s series of the concertos on the fortepiano, if it’s intended to be a series, is developing very slowly. Having downloaded the latest release, I liked it so much that I also downloaded and liked its predecessor: Concertos 17 (K453) and 22 (K482) with Rondo, K386, appeared in late 2012, with Petra Müllejans directing (Harmonia Mundi HMC902147) – also available from eclassical.com. Harmonia Mundi seem to be giving up on the SACD format but the 24-bit downloads from eclassical.com amply compensate; they even include surround sound for some releases, though not for this. Both Bezuidenhout and Brautigam (BIS, see below) offer fortepiano without tears, with instruments far removed from the honky-tonk sound of some earlier attempts at authentic Mozart. Let coupling be your guide.

Those used to more traditional Mozart may well be slightly put off by the Freiburg use of solo strings in quiet passages but they should appreciate Bezuidenhout’s crisply articulated playing. Even confirmed traditionalists, if they persevere, may well come to the conclusion that there is more than one way to perform these concertos. That’s especially true in the case of the three early works on the new release and the coupling is more logical than splitting them up on the rival, but otherwise equally recommendable, BIS recordings with Ronald Brautigam. (8, 11 and 13: BIS-SACD-2074 – DL News 2015/9; 9, 12 and Rondo, K386: BIS-SACD-1794 – DL News 2012/20).

Mention of Ronald Brautigam’s recordings reminds me that he, his Kölner Akademie partners and Michael Willens have just completed their series on the fortepiano with an eleventh volume containing Keyboard Concertos Nos. 1-4, K37, K39-41, on BIS-SACD-2094. As well as the hybrid SACD, it’s available to download with pdf booklet in mp3, 16-bit lossless, 24-bit stereo and 24-bit surround from eclassical.com. At the time of writing 24-bit is available at the same price as 16-bit, $8.56, compensating for the fairly short playing time of 58:34. The music is all arranged from sonatas by other composers but the youthful Mozart made it his own to the same extent that Charles Avison did in creating concertos from Scarlatti Sonatas. Café Zimmermann’s recording of some of these Avison concertos have just been reissued on the mid-price Alpha Collection label – review.

The Harmonia Mundi sounds excellent, the Alpha very good, especially comparing both in 24-bit format.  The 24-bit download costs more than the CD in each case. Both come with very worthwhile booklets, the Alpha in a slightly flimsy cardboard bi-fold case, with the booklet in a pocket on one side and the CD in a plastic tray glued to the other side.

If you can run to only one of the recent releases of Mozart piano concertos, I would probably point you first in the direction of the fifth and final release in the series of live recordings made by Mitsuko Uchida in Cleveland: Concertos Nos. 17 and 25 (Decca 4830716). That apart, and setting aside all the pros and cons which I’ve mentioned concerning fortepiano v. pianoforte and the vagaries of couplings and recording quality, both these new releases are well worth considering.

Brian Wilson


 




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