I consider Mozart's piano concertos to constitute one of the most
magnificent bodies of works in the classical music repertoire, along
the lines of Bach's cantatas, Beethoven's piano sonatas, Haydn's string
quartets, and Schubert's lieder. Mozart's 19th & 27th piano concertos
stand tall in this company, although they are not as frequently recorded
as Mozart's 20th, 21st, and 23rd piano concertos.
Richard Goode and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra have been slowly traversing
Mozart's piano concertos. Reviews have been very favorable, with some
projecting that this might be the best series on disc. For comparison
purposes of Goode's new recording of the 19th and 27th piano concertos,
I am using three discs having the same coupling:
Goode/Orpheus - Nonesuch 79608 (recorded 1996).
Haskil/Fricsay- DG Dokumente 431872 (1957).
Schiff/Vegh - Decca 421259 (1987).
De Larrocha/C. Davis - RCA 68289 (1992).
In addition, the following recordings are also utilized:
#19 - Rabinovitch/Rabinovitch - Teldec 98407 (1998).
Uchida/Tate - Philips 422348 (1988).
O'Conor/Mackerras - Telarc 80285 (1990).
Perahia/Perahia - Sony 39064 (1984).
Pollini/Bohm - DG 429812 (1976).
#27 - O'Conor/Mackerras - Telarc 80219 (1989).
Jarrett/Davies - ECM 21565 (1994).
Perahia/Perahia - Sony 46485 (1990).
Annie Fischer/Kurtz - EMI 67041 (1966).
Gilels/Bohm - DG Galleria 419059 (1974).
I have a few comments before starting out with Mozart's 19th piano
concerto. The Goode recording has been in the "can" for four years. The
Rabinovitch on Teldec is likely more familiar as being a Martha Argerich
vehicle, but she performs in only the other two concertos on the cd.
Jarrett's is the only 2-cd set, and it also has concertos 21, 23, Masonic
Funeral Music, and Symphony No. 40. Lastly, I am not using any period
instrument versions because I tend to look for different features in those
Piano Concerto No. 19 in F major, K.459 - The F major Concerto was written
toward the end of 1784, a very productive year for the 28 year old Mozart;
he wrote five other piano concertos earlier that year and was in the
process of composing the "Haydn" String Quartets. The F major Concerto
is scored for piano, flute, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, and
strings, the same orchestration as for earlier Concertos Nos. 15, 17,
and 18. Mozart was making increasing use of woodwinds, and the F major
provides significant dialogue among the woodwinds, piano, and strings.
It is reasonable to assume that the time period of the creation of the F
major Concerto was a happy one for Mozart, given his productivity and his
marriage 2 years earlier. The previous move to Vienna from Salzburg was
another important plus at that time.
The first movement is a joyous and playful Allegro of elegance, lyricism,
smooth flow, and tenderness; these qualities can be found in most recorded
versions of the movement. However, to my mind, what separates good from
excellent performances of the first movement are the forward momentum, and
"edge" inherent in the music. It always surprises me how so many versions
essentially do not address those qualities. Yet, those are the traits
which really bring the music to life and make it a special experience.
I started out with O'Conor/Mackerras and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.
Mackerras and his orchestra are excellent. Their relatively fast pace is
infectious and they provide a fine degree of angularity when called for.
O'Conor is another story; he's playful, but understated. I can go with
that approach as long as there's much poetry, elegance, and tenderness.
But he does not often provide those features.
Then came De Larrocha/Davis with one of the slow first movements, and
it sounds even slower in a performance which is relatively sedentary.
Although Davis is not exactly lively, he sounds like a barnstormer compared
to De Larrocha. Everything is smoothed out; the edge is history. I think
this is just the type of Mozart performance that can have some folks
wondering what all the fuss is about. Yes, it has beauty and a smooth
flow. But a geat deal of music from other composers also has those traits.
What makes Mozart special is how many other qualities he brings to his
music, and how well they interact musically.
There's always relief around the corner, and Haskil/Fricsay take me back
to Mozart's greatness. Fricsay does a fine job, but it's Haskil who makes
all the difference. She is inside Mozart to the core. Her flow is as
smooth as silk when needed, and she has all the edge I could want. Most
impressive, Haskil provides all the qualities I mentioned above and just at
the right moments; she always has something to tell me. This is among the
best Mozart piano performances I've heard in a long time. The sound is
mono, but interpretations like Haskil's transcend the mundane.
Perahia and the English Chamber Orchestra are excellent. Perahia is highly
poetic and silky smooth; the orchestra follows suit. The woodwinds are
delightful; in fact, everything about the performance is admirable and
enjoyable. But, Perahia is not on Haskil's level.
Rabinovitch can be dispensed with. He is fast, engages in cute little
hesitations, and gives me the impression that he wants to be as unmusical
as possible. His changing of speeds destroys any sense of flow.
Rabinovitch just drains the music of its beauty.
Goode/Orpheus are as fast as Rabinovitch but maintain fine musicality
throughout. The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra plays splendidly; they are
poetic and incisive, a very winning combination in Mozart. The only
problem is that my enjoyment goes down when Goode joins in. He sounds fast
and a little rushed; the orchestra does not. Goode's accenting is not to
my liking, and he's a little choppy as well. Overall, this version is
enjoyable but leaves much room for improvement.
Pollini/Bohm starts off very well with Bohm a little less silky than
Perahia but more incisive. Pollini is also more incisive than Perahia
but less smooth; some of this is likely due to Pollini being more forward.
Regardless, both are excellent performances.
Tate provides Uchida with outstanding orchestral support; he is fully
poetic with fine angularity and pacing. I've always loved Uchida's
recordings of Mozart's piano sonatas, and she's in full command in this
movement. She takes the music to the "edge" but never loses control; this
quality permeates her interpretation. Uchida is as superb as Haskil.
Vegh sounds a little rushed at the beginning and, unfortunately, continues
that way throughout the movement; this does significant damage to the
music's flow. Things improve when Schiff is part of the action, but his
fine performance can not erase Vegh's approach which is to stay on Schiff's
wavelength only when Schiff is playing.
Rabinovitch and De Larrocha are versions I don't have any desire to hear
in the near future. Schiff, Goode, and O'Conor have their strengths and
weaknesses. Perahia and Pollini are highly enjoyable and insightful
readings. But, Uchida and Haskil are the best in the first movmement;
theirs are outstanding performances which take the music to a higher plane.
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