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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
Piano Concertos Volume No.4
Piano Concerto No.21 in C, KV467 (1785, cadenzas Friedrich Gulda) [28:06]
Overture Don Giovanni, KV527 (1787) [5:54]
Piano Concerto No.20 in d minor, KV466 (1785, cadenzas Beethoven) [31:08]
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano)
Manchester Camerata/Gábor Takács-Nagy
rec. The Stoller Hall, Hunts Bank, Manchester, 7 and 8 September 2018. DDD.
Reviewed as 24/96 download with pdf booklet from chandos.net.
CHANDOS CHAN20083 [65:08]

Earlier volumes in this ongoing series have won praise all round: CHAN10929 – Concertos Nos. 17 and 18, Divertimento; CHAN10958 – Concertos Nos. 14 and 19 and Divertimenti; CHAN20035 – Concertos Nos. 15 and 16, Quintet for Piano and Winds. Marc Rochester summed up the general reaction in writing of  CHAN10929 that it ‘should be in every collection’. If I was a little, but only a little, less enthusiastic about CHAN20035 in Winter 2018/19-1, it’s because I’ve recently found Ronald Brautigam’s series on the fortepiano the versions to which I return the most, having been converted by him to an instrument that I used to find hard to listen to.

With the latest pair of concertos, competition is much stiffer than for any of the earlier Chandos volumes. No.21 was catapulted to fame by the inclusion of Géza Anda’s DG Archiv recording of the slow movement, with the Salzburg Camerata Academica, in the film Elvira Madigan, from which it has forever gained a nickname which should have been forgotten with the movie.

Not having listened to that recording for quite some time, I expected to find myself dismissing it out of hand by comparison with my favourite Golden Oldie, from Stephen Kovacevich and Colin Davis with the LSO in 1972 (Philips Rosette Presto special  4765316, mid-price, or download, with No.25). The Anda coupling of Nos. 20 and 21 is on DG Eloquence 4632342, or Nos. 6, 17 and 21 can be found on DG Originals 4474362. There’s even a single download of No.21 (4790987, around Ł3 in lossless sound, less still in mp3). Don’t think of downloading the DG Originals album – the lossless version, without booklet, costs more than the CD – unless you want the 24-bit.

Then I remembered that I had made the DG Originals reissue of the Anda my Reissue of the Month in DL Roundup July 2012/2. Admittedly, that was as one of a number of DG classics which Linn reissued in superior 24-bit transfers, a short-lived venture. I found myself then surprising myself by choosing that as my Desert Island choice for K467 and I’m equally surprised to find myself still enjoying it. That I still like the Kovacevich surprises me far less; I’m pleased that Presto have kept it available on CD.

Michael O’Loghlin in the Chandos booklet notes that Mozart wrote in a letter to his father in 1777 that other players were surprised to hear him maintain a strict tempo in the left hand while adopting a greater degree of freedom in the right hand and that such treatment remained common until comparatively recently. It’s not entirely clear what Mozart meant by it, but Jean-Efflam Bavouzet adds a note in which he recalls a performance by Friedrich Gulda: ‘We know how Mozart insisted on a very regular accompaniment and on letting the melody ‘speak’ above it. The way in which Gulda plays the melody in the right hand in [the slow] movement [of K467] … is possibly the way Mozart himself would have played it’. I can say only that I was never aware of Bavouzet adopting the technique in so noticeable a way as to affect my enjoyment of the music.

Bavouzet and Gábor Takács-Nagy take the famous andante of K467 at a brisk, but not brusque, tempo. With no question of different cadenzas to complicate the issue in this movement, it’s possible to compare in detail. On paper, the new recording is faster than both Anda and Kovacevich and Davis. 6:40 is arguably closer to the andante marking and is less likely to fall into the temptation of sounding like an adagio, though in practice neither of the older versions falls victim to that. Nor, indeed, to go back even further (1958), do Annie Fischer and Wolfgang Sawallisch on Warner Great Recordings, though their view of andante is on the spacious side (Nos. 21 and 22: 5627502 – review – download only, or stream from Naxos Music Library). None of these older soloists ornaments the music as Bavouzet does, though nothing is overdone on the new recording.

I’ve mentioned Ronald Brautigam’s Mozart concerto recordings on the fortepiano, with the Kölner Akademie and Michael Alexander Willens. They couple No.21 with No.14 on BIS-2054, SACD or 24-bit download (with optional surround sound) and their interpretation of andante is considerably faster even than on Chandos, but Brautigam’s crisp finger-work and the alert accompaniment never allow this to sound peremptory. With lots of Christmas material to cover in that edition, I gave this only a brief welcome in DL News 2014/14, so let me hail it now as very well worth considering, even by those who think they dislike the fortepiano: this modern copy of an 1805 Walter is one of the best specimens of its kind.

I intended to listen only for comparison to the andante on BIS, but couldn’t bring myself to pause before the sparkling account of the allegro vivace assai finale. Sparkling, yes, but none of the recordings under consideration overdoes the sparkle, all coming in at around 6:30 – the use of the Gulda cadenza brings Bavouzet a few seconds over that mark. Brautigam uses much shorter cadenzas of his own.

The chief feature of Bavouzet’s playing is the preciseness of his touch throughout, akin to that of Angela Hewitt, whose Bach provides one of the very few piano recordings of his music that I like. Hewitt hasn’t (yet) recorded Nos. 20 and 21, but her performances of Nos. 17 and 27 made me hope that she would do so, except that her Mozart series seems to have been discontinued (CDA67919 – DL News 2013/8). Both achieve a crispness equalled only by Brautigam’s fortepiano, which makes me wonder why neither uses the older instrument, but that’s a whole different issue.

The accompaniment, too, from the Manchester Camerata, is much lighter than Anda’s or even Kovacevich’s, lighter than anything I’ve heard since a Naxos recording of a contemporary arrangement for piano, string quartet and bass, which works surprisingly well in the hands of Alon Goldstein and the Fine Arts Quartet (Nos. 20 and 21: 8.573398 – review). It may work surprisingly well, but the quartet is no match for the Manchester Camerata.

In the opening movement both Anda and Kovacevich/Davis maintain a convincing allegro maestoso and both the older recordings stand up well even against the new 24-bit Chandos. Allowing for the cadenzas, the older versions take around the same time as each other, while Brautigam and Willens, at a slightly faster tempo, still manage to balance the two halves of the tempo marking. Once again, while neither of the other recordings is muddy, it’s the clarity of the BIS in 24/96 sound that stands out.

I listened to the new Chandos, too, in 24/96 format. At Ł13.99 as against Ł9.99 for 16-bit lossless, the Chandos mark-up is steep, but the same is true of BIS from eclassical.com, once the initial offer of 24-bit for the same price as 16-bit ends: in this case $11.49 for 24-bit, $8.21 for 16-bit. (BIS downloads from their sister site are always reasonably priced; in this case, the price reflects the short playing time of 56:00.)

The Manchester Camerata is a larger band than the Kölner Akademie and they play on modern instruments, but, as I’ve already indicated in the andante, they tread as delicately as the smaller period ensemble, a perfect match for Bavouzet throughout this movement, though neither sounds over-delicate. It’s essential to bring out Mozart’s anima as well as his animus, in Jungian terms, without sounding effeminate in the process. There’s a wonderful medieval Latin word pedentim; it baffled all online translators and it’s not in my dictionary, but it means ‘stepping delicately’, and it kept popping into my head as I listened to Bavouzet and the Camerata’s accompaniment.

By now, it should be becoming apparent that my choice for listening to K467 in future will be between this new Chandos recording and, if in the mood for some authenticity without tears, the BIS. Interesting as the BIS coupling is, however, Chandos’s No.20, K466, is considerably more substantial. Here again it’s Kovacevich and Davis who provide my classic choice on modern instruments (with No.23, K488: 4224662, Presto CD only, no download), while Brautigam and Willens also offer a substantial coupling in the form of No.27, K595 (BIS-2014, SACD – review – or 24-bit download – review). That was the first volume in the BIS series that really won me over, and I now prefer it even to Kovacevich and Davis, good as they are, and though they offer my favourite Mozart concerto as coupling.

The same features that attracted me to the new Chandos recording of K467 are also apparent in K466. Though I’ve written in more detail about the former, I believe its immediate predecessor to be the more significant work. The minor key – rare in Mozart concertos, though a feature of Haydn’s Sturm und Drang style – makes it sound more profound than its companion, so it’s appropriate that Bavouzet has chosen the Beethoven cadenzas for a work which in many ways anticipates the younger composer’s c-minor Piano Concerto, No.3, then still some years in the future. (Of which DG should reissue Annie Fischer’s recording with the Bavarian Radio Orchestra and Ferenc Fricsay, once available on a bargain Heliodor LP, with Mozart Rondos K382 and K386; last seen separately on 4538042 and still available as part of an 18-hour set of Fricsay’s DG recordings.)

Rather than my firm favourite from Kovacevich and Davis, I listened to a recording from 2005 whiche uses the Beethoven cadenzas and which, despite having been given a key rating by the Penguin Guide Yearbook, is now download only. (Sony 82876737142: Martin Stadtfeld with the NDR SO and Bruno Weil, with No.24, K491). Michael Greenhalgh thought their recording a little too well ‘scrubbed up’ – review – and, though I enjoyed hearing it, that’s apparent by comparison with the new Bavouzet.

Like so many recordings deleted on CD, the Stadtfeld download, at around Ł12 for 16-bit, with no booklet, is over-expensive. The Presto special CD of Kovacevich and Davis also sells at full price, though that of No.21 costs less and it was once available for around Ł4.99. Bargain seekers will be better served by another reissue of a Philips recording: Alfred Brendel with the ASMF and Neville Marriner (Nos. 19-21, 23-24, two Rondos, Decca Duo 4422692, 2-for-1 CDs or download). The Mitsuko Uchida, ECO/Jeffrey Tate twofer containing No.20 seems to have disappeared in all formats, though the coupling of Nos. 20 and 21 remains available as a Presto CD (4163812).  The distinguished Clifford Curzon Decca Legends twofer of Nos. 20, 23-24 and 26-27, with Benjamin Britten and István Kertész is now download only (4694912).

Two earlier Chandos recordings of Mozart piano concertos well worth considering are currently on offer at very attractive prices: Howard Shelley with London Mozart Players (Nos. 20 and 23, CHAN8992, Ł6.99 lossless download or Ł6.30 on CD from chandos.net -- DL News 2013/1; 21 and 22 CHAN9404, Ł6.99 lossless download, Ł2.50 on CD from chandos.net).

So it’s Brautigam and Willens if I’m in the mood for period-instrument Mozart, as I often am nowadays. You could even download just No.20 and No.21 from their respective albums, if so inclined, and pay less than for the full deal. But I also want to hear modern-instrument Mozart and for that Bavouzet and Takács-Nagy look set to be preferred in future even above Anda and Kovacevich/Davis, especially for the sake of the 24-bit recording.

Brian Wilson



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