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W.A. Mozart: The Great Piano Concertos
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Antonio Janigro, Hans Swarowsky
W.A. Mozart: The Great Piano Concertos
Genre: Classical
 
  •  Track Listings (6) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (6) - Disc #2


      
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CD Reviews

Finally! The Denis Matthews recordings of the Minor-Key Conc
John Parker Marmaro | Spring Hill, Florida | 09/28/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This double-disc release contains, on disc one, a wonderful performance of Mozart's earliest piano concerto masterwork, the "Jeunehomme Concerto" no. 9, K. 271. The soloist is one of the great pianists of the 20th Century, Alfred Brendel, and the orchestra the wonderful Solisti di Zagreb (who, also on Vanguard, have a splendid performance of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons). The Friedrich Gulda performance of Concerto no. 17 is also fine. But to me the splendor of this release is disc 2, which contains what are to me the greatest recordings of the two minor key Mozart Concerti, no. 20 in D Minor K. 466, and no. 24 in C Minor, K. 491, which have been unavailable for many years. Now, I own more than half a dozen other recordings of each of these two legendary concerti; and some are good, even very very good: but virtually every one has seemed to me inferior when compared to the recordings in this issue. True, the sound is a bit dated (though the engineers have done an excellent job restoring and digitalizing it). It is the performances that are magisterial. The pianist is one who is sadly largely forgotten today even by the classical music-loving pubic: the great Sir Denis Matthews. And the orchestra and conductor are equally brilliant: Hans Swarowsky leading the Vienna State Opera Orchestra.

The performances of both minor-key concerti are splendid: perfectly judged as to tempi, as to the balance between orchestra and piano, and as to the balance between winds and strings; both the ensemble and the individual playing of the members of the orchestra are wonderful. And Matthews is flawless. Not only as a performer and interpreter: mention must also be made of the cadenzas he wrote and here performs in the C Minor, K. 491-- the first movement cadenza perfectly gauged as to length, the one in the finale only a few bars, which is equally perfect for its place. (He plays the wonderful Beethoven cadenzas for the D Minor.) Unlike cadenzas written and performed by many other pianists (which out of kindness I will forbear listing), which tend not to be in a style fully harmonized with that of Mozart, Matthews' are excellent and perfectly in tune with Classical style. Also, some cadenzas I have heard incorporate material that is not in Mozart's score, and hence sound out of place, even jarring: not so with Matthews', which not only use Mozart's themes and figurations, but do so in a particularly felicitous way.

A word or two about the concerti themselves. The "Jeunehomme" begings with what was an audacious touch: the first phrase of the opening theme is stated in the orchestra and the answering phrase in the piano. This is repeated; and then the piano is silent until the second exposition. Beethoven would later use a similar technique but with utterly different effect, in his Fourth Concerto in G. The two minor key concerti here are among Mozart's greatest masterpieces, and are also very different. The C Minor is inward, brooding, and shares a very unusual quality with Beethoven's fourth in that both are almost like chamber music: there is no sense of conflict between the piano and orchestra, rather there is complete partnership. (They are utterly different in nearly every other respect.) Mozart sweated over this C-minor concerto-- he did an enormous amount of revision and rewriting, very uncharacteristic of him. The woodwind writing is particularly wonderful throughout. The opening movement, from its dark unison statement of the theme at the outset, is troubled and turbulent. The slow movement is a respite; the finale is, in fact, one of Mozart's greatest. It is a theme and variations, but it has a mood which is unique, quite unlike anything else Mozart wrote. It is also dark but has a melancholy resignation about it that even the two major key variations cannot dispel. Yet this melancholy is almost painfully moving. (Beethoven was once observed, listening to this movement, his face rapt, his head swaying, and he said to a friend, "Ah, we shall never write anything like this!") It is almost the mournful song of suffering humanity. One critic once tried to verbalize its complex melancholy as being like "a young widow who thinks she is hiding her grief from the world, but whose grief nevertheless is painfully obvious." After the short cadenza, the final variation-cum-coda, in 6/8 time, is first rueful, then passionately dark, and the movement ends in a wave of minor key vehemence. This is exceptionally unusual for the Classical period, which had a preference for major keys in general: even in Mozart's numerically rare minor key works, he almost never ends a work in minor-- this concerto, and the famous Great G minor Symphony no. 40, are two striking exceptions. I have never heard another rendering of this finale to the C Minor that equals, perhaps even approaches, the one here included, both for its lucidity, lyricism, passion, and melancholy. The D Minor is equally dark, but it is more public. Still, again, Mozart achieves something in the movement's start quite unlike anything else he or others have written. Where the C Minor began in unison, the D Minor opens with an extremely complex, extremely syncopated, texture of oddly stressed individual musical lines, through which the theme, which is surprisingly simple (a smoothly stepping theme, as opposed to the angular and chromatic one of the C Minor), emerges almost imperceptibly at first: turbulent, passionately dark. The slow movement is a Romanza of suprising felicity, though there is a dark central section. The finale begins equally dark but moves inexorably into the light, ending with a jubilantly happy major-key coda.

In short, these two performances represent what are in my opinion the very finest realizations of Mozart's C and D Minor concerti on record, the many other excellent later versions notwithstanding. I have been waiting for 15 years for them to be issued on CD-- thank you, finally, Vanguard! And the price is excellent. Even if you have recordings of these works, I urge you to hear these. You will want to have them in your collection-- and I think you will end up going to them habitually when you want to experience Mozart's great tragic concerti! So don't hesitate-- who knows how long it will remain in print?"
The very finest account of K466, to my humble ears
David Diamond | Portland, ME | 07/13/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Mozart's D Minor Piano Concerto was the piece that sparked the very first flames of an intense lifelong passion for classical music. I must have been about 15 years old when a wonderful teacher I had in high school loaned me a recording of Serkin and the Columbia Symphony Orcherstra performing the 19th and 20th concerti under the baton of George Szell. The 20th has haunted me ever since I first heard those beautifully anguished opening bars drawn out in syncopated sighs by the orchestra. Over the years I have listened to and purchased several accounts of this titanic work. Among my favorites are those of Clifford Curzon with the English Chamber Orchestra under Benjamin Britten, Arthur Rubinstein with the RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra under Alfred Wallenstein, and Alicia De Larrocha with the English Chamber Orchestra under Sir Colin Davis. This recording, however - notwithstanding those abovementioned - is truly a rare gem. Mathew Davis was heretofore unbeknownst to me, but on the basis of the strong recommendations this recording received I decided it was worth purchasing. I am in complete accord with the positive reviews posted before me. The opening Allegro is perfectly judged, the balance between orchestra and soloist epidemizing equality in a dialogue that distinguishes it from the C Minor Concerto. Matthews plays with touching emotion but never oversteps the bounds appropriate to the classical form of the work. The Romanza is an especially poignant musical masterpiece. He sings it with such beautiful, heartfelt expression. There are some added trills and grace notes that I am not used to hearing (the closest thing to it I know is found in Curzon's recording of it with Britten) and the experience is truly a moving one. Finally, in the Allegro Assai he carries the great tragic weight of the piece upward on such graceful wings of sound, out of the darkness and into that final major-key sunburst of a finale that makes this piece so uniquely Mozartian. Of course, such enthusiastic reviews are to be found of a good number of the abundant renditions of this work. Beauty is in the ear of the listener when it comes to music. I am of the belief that there is really no such thing as a definitive recording because the beauty of classical music is that it is a matter of interpretation. It is music that breathes new life each time it is played and the differences between one man's interpretation and another's are what keep it so interesting. I will continue to listen to all of the recordings I own, but this one, for me personally, lets the music truly shine of its own worth. Matthews is neither too controlled nor too romantic, but just right. I hope others will enjoy this fine recording as much as I do."
Not to be missed
J. Dorazio | Philadelphia, PA | 03/05/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Fantastic performances, especially the minor key concertos. Matthews is brilliant, as is the orchestra. Chamber-music like quality that is too often missed with some of the better known performances - and isn't this where Mozart's piano concertos defy analysis -- symphonic chamber music> This CD is a must have."