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CLASSICAL  September 2007

CLASSICAL September 2007

Subject:

Mozart Piano Concertos from Mark Bebbington

From:

Don Satz <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 28 Sep 2007 16:49:33 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (74 lines)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 11 in F major, K 413 (1782-83) [23:05]
Piano Concerto No. 12 in A major, K 414 (1782) [26:53]
Piano Concerto No. 13 in C major, K 415 (1782-83) [28:09]
Mark Bebbington (piano)
Orchestra of the Swan/David Curtis
rec. Pittville Pump Room, Cheltenham, 12 March 2006
Somm 066 [78:07]

Comparisons: Ashkenazy/Decca, Bilson/Gardiner, Perahia/Sony, Schiff/Decca,
Uchida/Philips

Given the huge discography afforded Mozart's piano concertos, a new
recording has to be rather special to gain any leverage on the market.
Sad to say, this new Somm recording is neither special nor as rewarding
as the comparison versions listed above.  However, it does possess some
fine features that should be noted.

Formed in 1996, the Orchestra of the Swan tends to specialize in new
music and has commissioned numerous works in recent years.  This is a
fine orchestra that executes the Mozart piano concertos in excellent
fashion.  Pianist Mark Bebbington, who has garnered much praise for his
recordings of British piano music, gives a sterling performance that is
fluid and graceful while partnering expertly in dialogue with the
orchestra.

The problem with the performances rests with the orchestra's director,
David Curtis.  He might well be outstanding in conducting modern music,
but his way with Mozart is problematic.  To come to the crux of the
matter, I need to provide some background to the three concertos on
the disc.  Mozart wrote them soon after his departure from Salzburg and
arrival in Vienna.  His aim was to gain a fine reputation in Vienna and
earn considerable monies.  As Mozart wrote to his father in the autumn
of 1782, "These concertos are a happy medium between what is too easy
and what is too difficult; they are very brilliant, pleasing to the ear,
and natural, without being vapid".

I would add that these three concertos, unlike a few of his more mature
works in the medium, are relatively devoid of any profound utterances -
brilliance, vitality and lyricism are the qualities that need to be
highlighted.  However, Curtis employs slower tempos than those from the
comparison performances, thereby dampening the music's brilliance and
vitality.  I have nothing against slower than normal pacing as long as
there are benefits to be gained, but no benefits are forthcoming from
Curtis.  Instead, the performances come through as somewhat lumbering
vehicles that fail to take flight.

Of greater damage is the soundstage listeners have to endure.  The upper
strings are on the grainy side, bass response is boomy/poorly defined
and the piano tone is too wet and overly reverberant.  The absence of a
bloom to the sound is a major detriment to a Mozart recording, and Curtis
and his forces are not able to overcome this problem.

Don's Conclusions: Given the slow tempos employed by Curtis and the
rather odd and unattractive sonic properties, I am unable to put my
stamp of approval on this new Somm recording.  The comparison versions
are just the ones I listened to in conjunction with this review.  There
are also many other alternative recordings of these three piano concertos
that surpass the Somm.  One choice that comes to mind is the recent Arte
Nova cycle featuring pianist Matthias Kirschnereit and the Bamberg
Symphony Orchestra conducted by Frank Beermann; it contains youthful and
vibrant accounts of Mozart's earlier piano concertos that significantly
best the heavy performances from Curtis and his orchestra.  In any event,
readers are advised to "take a pass" on the Somm; the competition is
overwhelming.

Don Satz
[log in to unmask]

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