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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
The Complete Multipiano Concertos
Concerto for Three Pianos and Orchestra in F major, K242 “Lodron Concerto” (1776) [23:17]
Larghetto and Allegro for two pianos and orchestra in E-flat major (1781? completed, Tomer Lev) [9:59]
Concerto for Two Pianos in E-flat major, K365 (1779) [25:20]
Multipiano Ensemble
Tomer Lev, Berenika Glixman, Daniel Borovitzky, Alon Kariv (pianos)
English Chamber Orchestra
rec. 13-14 September 2014, Henry Wood Hall, London.
HYPERION CDA68367 [58:39]

For some reason this disc has been sat on a shelf in the Hyperion vaults since 2014 patiently awaiting a release date. Its USP is the inclusion of a little-known diptych by Mozart, a Larghetto and Allegro which the Israeli pianist Tomer Lev has fashioned into a delightful (if brief) two-piano concertante novelty. Since Maximilian Stadler’s early attempt in the years directly following the composer’s death, other hands have attempted to flesh this fragment out into a piece for two pianos alone, but Lev has managed to contrive a delicious hors d’oeuvre for the two pianos with idiomatically imagined orchestral accompaniment for a band comprising pairs of oboes, bassoons and horns with a complement of strings. It projects an operatic countenance; the Larghetto introduction (a mere 35 bars) is an intimate arioso, the delicate initial entry of the strings here seems more redolent of an HIP group than the English Chamber Orchestra (although that initial impression fades rapidly). This segues almost imperceptibly into a bristling, busy Allegro which is brimming with Mozartean elan. It is easily the most strongly characterised of the three works on this disc, or perhaps because of its complete unfamiliarity it just seems that way. The two pianists (Lev himself with Alon Kariv) are clearly having a ball, unselfconsciously hamming it up throughout the quickfire to-ing and fro-ing. Hyperion’s sonics are a joy; the production team (Messrs Eadon, Cox and Keener) solving the puzzle of balancing twin pianos against a chamber orchestral with surgical precision and trademark good taste.

Bookending this completion are Mozart’s two actual ‘multipiano’ concertos for three and two pianos respectively, although the former (presumably for practical reasons) is often heard in its two-piano-with-orchestra guise. For this work (it’s sometimes dubbed the ‘Lodron’ concerto, or referred to as Mozart’s ‘Piano Concerto No 7’) Lev is joined by two more fellow ‘multi-pianists’, Daniel Borovitzky and Berenika Glixman. Lev’s accessible and engaging booklet note details Mozart’s creation of the piece for Madame Lodron (the Lodron family were influential patrons of the arts in Salzburg) and her two daughters; the composer evidently adopted a tiered approach for the solo parts which reflected the different skill levels of the three intended protagonists. Lev and his two partners turn in an account of grace and lightness which well suits the concerto’s aesthetic. There is plenty of air radiating around the sound picture which acts to prevent any sense of clutter that might arise from three competing pianos. The interplay between the soloists (whether in duet or tutti) reveals impressive levels of instinctive empathy (the brief first movement cadenza comes off splendidly in this regard). For all the technical merits of the playing (and the ideal recording) however, I detected a rather generic quality to the interpretation. Both these concertos are teeming with opportunities for spontaneity and sparkle from the soloists, and while the playing here is unfailingly confident and assured, compared to my favourite accounts this reading of K242 lacks a bit of personality. In this regard I strongly recommend Barenboim, Solti and Schiff, also with the ECO on Decca Eloquence (review) whilst Brautigam, Lubimov and Huss and their fortepianos are even more characterful on a wonderful BIS CD (review); one must also throw the legendary Lupu/Perahia two-piano account on Sony (review) into the mix. Ultimately the MultiPiano Ensemble’s reading is technically excellent if a bit too buttoned up for my ears.

That descriptor also applies to Lev and Glixman’s take on the two-piano concerto (or ‘No 10’ in E-flat major, K365). This work is inevitably more technically demanding for both soloists (and certainly more interesting for the listener). There are fleeting exchanges between the soloists in the opening Allegro which are tastefully idiosyncratic but they prove to be the exceptions rather than the rule; the Lupu/Perahia account seems consistently more spontaneous by comparison. Lev and Glixman’s Andante tends toward the crisp and incisive rather than the poetic, although the concluding Rondo is certainly alive to Mozart’s wit – the exchanges from 1:55 for example are imaginatively managed. Here the recording comes into its own, with the separation between the pianos superbly clear and their integration into the whole sound picture clean and authentic.

The MultiPiano Ensemble evolved under the aegis of the Buchmann-Mehta Music School, itself an initiative established jointly by the University of Tel Aviv and the Israel Philharmonic in 2011. On the evidence of this disc, for a country with a population of less than 10 million there appears to be no shortage of excellent pianists in Israel. Tomer Lev seems to be a central figure in the arrangement, both as lead performer and mentor. He certainly has a flair for communication if his readable and informative note is anything to go by.

These concertos have not been recorded anywhere near as frequently as their single piano counterparts, yet the E-flat major work seems as familiar (and as fresh) to my ear as any of them. It is certainly good to hear them both in these vividly recorded accounts, especially with the delightful coupling. The overall impression left by this disc is most certainly a positive one and anyone seeking a fresh account of the two concertos can invest with a degree of confidence. From my perspective however it does not quite displace the three exceptional discs I mentioned above, despite Hyperion’s superior recorded sound.

Richard Hanlon
Previous review: Dominy Clements

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