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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-91)
Piano Concertos – No. 19 in F, K459 (1784) [29’41]; No. 12 in A, K414 (1782-4) [25’40]. Rondo in A minor, K511 (1787) [9’12]
Maria João Pires (piano)
Lausanne Chamber Orchestra/Armin Jordan (Concertos)
Rec. Radio Lausanne, Switzerland, in December 1976 (Concertos) and at Théâtre San Carlos, Lisbon, Portugal, July 1973 (Rondo). ADD
WARNER APEX 2564 60161-2 [65’08]

Waiting in the wings for her talents to be fully appreciated at the time of these recordings, here is Maria João Pires sporting many characteristics for which she is now renowned: pearly scales, an infallible innate musicality and a clear affinity with the music of Mozart. Many of the traits heard here are evidently still in action, if a recent RFH appearance is anything to go by (S&H link).

Originally issued on Erato Disques, the choice of orchestra and conductor may well be the determining factor here, for there is clearly a mismatch. Piano Concerto No. 19 comes first in the batting order, and the scene is set. Jordan and his Lausanne forces are neat in the initial tutti, but uninspiring in every way. Pedestrian through and through, one has to wait for Pires’ magical touch before anything moving can happen. And happen it does. There is something very confident in Pires’ restraint, and her delicate entrance bears testimony to this. She consistently outclasses her colleagues. Listen also to the second movement, where the orchestra is smooth but perfunctory; Pires immediately creates intimacy well beyond the orchestra’s reach. Only in the finale is she a trifle careful-sounding and not wholly involved. The ending is matter-of-fact, which sums up, certainly, the orchestral contribution to a tee.

The same deal is pretty much in operation for the wonderful little A major Concerto, No. 12 in A, K414. The orchestra chugs its way along, then Pires starts to play and all of a sudden one listens. In this first movement, and that of No. 19, the cadenzas are the high points, a most unusual situation that is due almost certainly to the fact that the orchestra is silent. Again, in the second movement, Pires is tender and intimate while the orchestra has its mind on lunch. The finale is the most successful part of this performance, appearing to be a determined effort to elevate this concerto from its designation as the ‘little’ A major.

Then, at last, we are alone with Pires for the A minor Rondo, K511. And how much more sense Mozart makes in Pires’ hands alone. It would be a treat to hear her play this piece today, with perhaps even more interpretative security, but nevertheless this is a consistent interpretation that will bring much pleasure. It must be said that, given the super-budget price tag of this issue, it is almost worth the purchase for this nine-minute composition.

Colin Clarke

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