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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 11, in F major, K.413, (1782-83)
Piano Concerto No. 14, in E flat major, K.449 (1784)
Piano Concerto No. 15, in B flat major, K.450 (1784)
Daniel Barenboim: piano and conductor
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Rec.: K.413 Philharmonie, Berlin, in March 1996; K.449 live, Philharmonie, Berlin, January 1997; K.450, live Philharmonie, Berlin, November 1996 DDD
WARNER CLASSICS ELATUS 2564-60116-2 [68:00]

The Elatus label offer here a digital re-release from the often idiosyncratic Argentinean pianist Daniel Barenboim in three of Mozartís piano concertos. He also directs the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.

The first piano concerto on this release is the No. 11, in F major K.414 which was composed probably in the winter of 1782-83 in Vienna. Mozart wrote to his father explaining that this concerto together with K.413 and K.415, which were composed close together, were to be a happy medium between being easy and difficult and brilliant and pleasing without being empty. He went on to say that these concertos had elements that would afford satisfaction not only to the knowledgeable but provide pleasure to the less perceptive; although they wouldnít know why.

The piano concerto No. 14 in E flat major K.449 was composed in 1784. A critic Eric Blom considered that the concerto displayed a distinctly new manner. He felt there was something dark and melancholy about the concerto; even a suggestion of tragedy.

1784 was also the year of composition of the final piano concerto on this release No. 15, in B flat major K.450. Mozart conceived the concerto as one of his most technically difficult with the highest virtuoso writing. Clearly Mozart found its composition demanding as his numerous amendments to the score seem to bear out.

There is fine orchestral playing from the Berlin Philharmonic who Barenboim conducts from the piano but his solo playing gives me an overall impression of just another day at the office. At times I was crying out for some of that legendary Barenboim idiosyncrasy to show itself. Although this is more than acceptable playing from the soloist it does strike me as lacking the vitality and sparkle that he displays on the complete set of piano concertos that he recorded some 30 years earlier with the ECO, on EMI CES5 72930-2. The fact that the concertos K.449 and K.450 are live recordings does not seem to stir Barenboim from his comfortable mode. Perhaps being comfortable is the underlying problem here for a soloist who seems to have lost some of the freshness and reverence for the great composers that his earlier EMI recording exudes.

There are many superb versions of these works to choose from in the catalogue, several of which are at super budget price. I would not recommend this Elatus recording that Barenboim recorded between 1996-97 against much of the competition and would choose the following as individual recommendations:

The most feted version of the piano concerto No. 11 K.414 is that from Murray Perahia with the ECO on Sony SK 42243, which is coupled with the piano concertos Nos 12, K.414 and 14 K.449.

My premier recommendation of the piano concerto No. 14 K.449 is the version by Alfred Brendel with the ASMF under Sir Neville Marriner, which includes six other piano concertos and other piano works, on Philips 446921-5.

Murray Perahiaís version with the ECO on Sony SK 37824 would be my first version of the piano concerto No.15 K.450 which is coupled with the piano concerto No.16 K.451.

Any reader who requires the complete set of Mozartís concertos for piano (the earliest 4 concertos after J.C. Bach have been omitted) should look no further than Murray Perahiaís analogue/digital recordings, with the ECO on Sony SK12K 46441.

At super budget price I have always been an advocate of the complete set from Jeno Jando with the Concentus Hungaricus, under the conductors Andras Ligeti, Ildiko Hegyi and Matyas Antal available on separate Naxos discs. Jando, I feel does not offer any amazing insights into the works - just consistently wonderful playing throughout. The performances would outshine many of those from his more eminent competitors if the identities of the performers were unknown during a hearing.

The booklet notes are most comprehensive but perhaps too technical - more than is necessary. The sound quality is good but like the performances they donít sparkle.

Good performances but Barenboim is left behind by the exceptionally strong competition that is available in these works.

Michael Cookson

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