This work is very hard to characterize emotionally, but it sighs and it sings enigmatically. Surprisingly, so many performances are very straightforward, never capturing these soulful, longing qualities that almost approach reverie at times. Not so this time. The interplay here is amazing, Pires' delicate approach is ideal for this music, and the conducting is elastic in that "Furtwanglerian" way. But don't get the impression this is bloated, Romantic Mozart…it's not. (Maybe Furtwangler wasn't the right name to evoke after all.
It's a shame Rubinstein didn't record more of Mozart's music, for his obvious affinity for the composer shines through these 1958-1960 stereo recordings of five concertos. Rubinstein's Mozart is forthright–he refuses to sentimentalize by swooning over the music's beauties or to indulge in larger-than-life playing that would rupture its classical framework. Even in the famous Andante of the 21st Concerto, his melting legato traces the curve of the melody without excess. Moderation was his byword, so while there are times one could wish for over-the-top risk taking–a more unbuttoned Allegro of the K. 453, a tad more melodrama in the first movement of the K. 466, some extra sizzle in the outer movements of K. 488–what we have is built to last for the long term. These are performances you can't get tired of. There's a general sense of rightness about tempo choices, and everything, from the singing tone to the exquisite phrasing to the perfectly managed transitions, reflects a master pianist playing music he feels deeply. The accompaniments are fine and the transfers significantly improved over past issues.
Mozart, who composed 21 piano concerti, can be regarded as the “inventor” of the popular piano concerto. Although J.S. Bach and his son had written numerous concerti for harpsichord or fortepiano and orchestra before him, Mozart’s enormous input to the genre is mostly due to his concerti being regarded as ‘popular music’ by his contemporaries: to be enjoyed and quickly replaced by newer works. For this series on four DVDs, the most influential, the most artistically challenging and the most popular piano concerti have been selected to be performed by the best Mozart interpreters of our time. Volume I features pianists Mitsuko Uchida, Vladimir Ashkenazy and Homero Francesch each performing a concerto representing a different stage in Mozart's life. The performances on this DVD were shot in highly attractive baroque venues – at the Mozarteum, Salzburg, in Hampton Court Palace, London and in the Christian-Zais-Saal, Wiesbaden – capturing the atmosphere of a performance in Mozart’s lifetime.
In the summer of 1781 Mozart described his new home Vienna as "the land of the piano". He soon set about presenting his own subscription concerts, offering the three newly-composed concertos on this disc for publication "either with a large orchestra or a quattro". The latter, more intimate versions of these charming works are performed here by Robert Blocker, Dean of Music and Professor of Piano at Yale University, and the youthful Biava Quartet, winners of the Naumburg Chamber Music Award and top prizes at the Premio Borciani and London International Competitions.
One hates to admit it, but at this point in his career, pianist Maurizio Pollini is no longer a Mozart player. Although a supreme virtuoso, a passionate intellectual, and a consummate artist, Pollini has grown too brilliant, too intense, and too calculating for Mozart. Pollini's tone is crystalline, his textures are transparent and his tempos are perfect in this breathtaking 2005 recording of the G major and C major piano concertos, but it all seems too cold and too objective. Although he is also directing the Wiener Philharmoniker from the piano, this doesn't seem to encumber Pollini's virtuosity in any way; indeed, he appears to enjoy the challenge, audibly coaxing more force from the musicians' playing.
Guiomar Novaes' life story has been the stuff of legend in the classical world for decades and this CD is clear evidence why none other than Claude Debussy himself helped single her out for greatness as a teenage prodigy. Recorded when she was in her 50's, she's absolutely stupendous, pulling off difficult passage after passage with fabulous effortlessness, her trademark. But forget the 'feminine piano' tag that has been given to her at times, this CD shows she can bring on the 'thunder and lightning' whenever necessary. Thanks to Vox Box Legends for this magnificent digitally mastered 2 CD set, the wonderful sound, and very detailed, extensive liner notes that put most other liner notes to shame.
Maria-Joào Pires has recorded these concertos before, for Erato, and this experience shows in assured playing. In K449 I find the sound of the Vienna Philharmonic, recorded in Vienna's Musikverein, too big: the string section seems large and the hall over-reverberant. Furthermore, the piano sounds plummy, and even those who dislike the fortepiano may question its suitability. With these reservations, one can enjoy Pires's deft and sensitive performance, without strong individuality but offering consistent intelligence, and the brisk finale shows her and Abbado at their best. Even so, this is a romanticized slow movement; the gooey orchestral sound does not help, but the pianist is also partly responsible in a way that I have sometimes noted in her performances of Mozart's sonatas.