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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No.20, K466 in D minor (1785) [36:15]
Piano Concerto No.22, K482 in E flat major (1785) [31:44]
Prague Chamber Orchestra/Martino Tirimo (piano)
rec. Athens (exact venue not stated), 2004. DDD
REGIS RRC1273 [68:15] 

 


Unlike the majority of Regis CDs, which are reissued under licence, this is a new recording, made in 2004.  Regis have already issued a series of recordings of Mozart’s solo piano works with Tirimo, available both as single CDs and in multi-disc permutations.  These solo recordings are well worth exploring: they are listed in the CD booklet and their virtues are extolled on the back-cover notes. 

My first impressions were somewhat unfavourable: in the orchestral opening of Concerto No. 22, placed first on the disc, the bass booms and sounds somewhat unfocused, though the ear soon adjusts.  I tried again, this time using a pair of good headphones, and the problem was much less apparent; it may be that Regis assume that most people will listen to their CDs on smaller systems, where the bass problem would be much less noticeable.  Perhaps the acoustic of the recording venue - merely given as ‘Athens’ in the notes - is to blame.  Elsewhere the recording is perfectly acceptable though it sometimes over-favours the timpani and obscures one or two orchestral details behind the predominant string sound.  The balance between piano and orchestra is more or less ideal. 

Tirimo’s playing exhibits the same qualities that won praise for his solo recordings – good, honest interpretations which do not interpose themselves between the music and the listener.  The Prague Chamber Orchestra follows his direction in the same vein.  The practice of directing from the keyboard brings general unanimity between soloist and orchestra, although, like Barenboim’s two recordings of these concertos, playing and directing the English Chamber Orchestra and later the Berlin Philharmonic, these are in no sense ‘period’ performances.  Tirimo uses a modern piano, though he does occasionally add some discreet and unobtrusive decoration to the solo part. 

Regis have chosen to place No. 22 first.  Tempi throughout are well chosen, though Tirimo is apt to linger a little too long in the andante second movement: at 9:14 he is a good minute slower than Jeno Jandó, his principal competitor in this price range.  In other movements time comparisons are less helpful, since the variety of cadenzas available clouds the issue – in fact, Regis fail to tell us whose cadenzas are employed here.  The otherwise helpful and informative booklet might have given us this information and omitted some of the biographical details about Tirimo.  The finale goes with a real swing. 

The same observations apply to No. 20, except that here Tirimo is a little too inclined to linger at times in the opening allegro, while the second movement romance, at 9:15, is more in line with expectations.  Once again the finale is lively.  One advantage of placing this concerto last is that the disc ends with what is for me slightly the better performance of slightly the greater of the two concertos. 

Though there is plenty of competition in these two concertos, no current single disc offers this logical coupling.  The obvious competition comes from Jandó who couples Nos. 11 and 22 on Naxos 8.550206 and Nos. 13 and 20 on 8.550201 – in each case combining a less well-known work with one of the 1785 masterpieces.  Both Tirimo and Jandó offer performances which would satisfy the audience in any concert and there is little in either for the most Beckmesser-like critic to mark as faults on his slate, but both lack that last degree of individuality which would make them first-class.  The Naxos recording is much more open than the Regis: the opening of K482, which made such an adverse impression at the start of the Regis disc sounds much more natural on the Naxos recording. Though the bass is still not quite ideally focused, the overall effect is much more acceptable. 

I don’t wish to be too hard on Tirimo: I have already listened to his recordings of these concertos several times without fatigue – indeed, they have grown on me – and I cannot imagine anyone regretting the small outlay required for either the Regis or the Naxos discs, but I wish Eloquence would reissue the Kovacevich/Davis versions of Concertos Nos. 20 and 23 which used to be available on Philips Concert Classics.  (Nos. 21 and 25 have recently reappeared as Philips ‘Rosette’ recordings.)  Kovacevich and Davis do not impose themselves on the music any more than Tirimo or Jandó but their performances are captivating.  After playing their version of No.20 for comparison, I was unwilling to stop the CD and continued listening to the end of No.23, feeling that I had listened to ‘real’ performances to which I would wish to return time and time again despite years of familiarity with these concertos.  Kovacevich’s playing is precise yet delicately nuanced where Tirimo sounds merely forthright, the LSO sound much more like a chamber orchestra than the Prague Chamber Orchestra on Regis and the analogue 1978 recording more than holds its own against Regis’s digital sound.  Some may feel differently, preferring Tirimo’s added ornamentation and slightly faster tempo in the slow movement of No. 20, where Kovacevich is inclined to linger.  As a fan of authenticity I might expect to prefer Tirimo here but my heart says otherwise: Kovacevich does not linger a whit too long for me. 

In the absence of Kovacevich I recommend Ashkenazy’s bargain Double Decca of Concertos 20-21 and 23-25 (452 958-2, also led from the keyboard) or the mid-price Curzon/Britten recordings of Nos. 20, 23, 24, 26 and 27 (468 491-2).  If you must have Nos. 20 and 22 together, try the Uchida/Tate versions of Concertos 19-23 on Philips Duo 468 540-2. 

Regis’s front cover reproduces the smug Mozart of the Tischbein portrait.  Perhaps they could have been a little more imaginative. 

Brian Wilson 

 

 

 


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