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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)
Concertos 1-4 K37, K39-41
Concerto no. 1 in F major, K37 [16.48]
Concerto no. 2 in B flat major, K39 [16.52]
Concerto no. 3 in D major, K40 [13.27]
Concerto no. 4 in G major, K41 [12.40]
Robert Levin, harpsichord
The Academy of Ancient Music, Christopher Hogwood
Rec: October 1998, London
DECCA 466 - 131-2 [60.12]
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When Mozart was 11 years old, after having conducted a lengthy tour of Europe, he set out with his father, to write arrangements of keyboard concerto movements by Raupach, Honauer, Schobert and Eckard. It is likely that these were his first attempts at 'writing' concertos, and these pasticcio concertos may represent the core material that helped Mozart come to grips with the concerto form.

While this disc actually contains music transcribed and arranged by Mozart (and his father), and not written by him, it is interesting for several reasons. These keyboard concertos, a mixture of arrangements of movements by the four composers mentioned above (with one movement after C.P.E. Bach, and one that might have been written by Mozart himself), represent not only Mozart's first attempt at writing concertos, but also vehicles designed to show off his virtuosity. The keyboard scores for these works are complex and demanding, calling for the most skilful performer. While musically they do not rank among Mozart's greatest works, it is interesting to hear the intermediate stage that lay between the composers who influenced his work and his own, later creations.

The four keyboard concertos here do not stand out for their exceptional musical qualities; they are little more than 'nice' music that is agreeable to listen to. However, the virtuosity of the works makes them worth a listen for the keyboard technique alone. Unfortunately, the recording is marred by an uneven balance between the harpsichord and orchestra. It can be difficult to record harpsichord concertos, and, here, the harpsichord is often drowned out by the orchestra, except during solo passages.

This disc is unique for many reasons. Robert Levin, an extremely gifted and talented keyboard player (who plays harpsichord, piano, organ and clavichord with equal levels of skill - his excellent recording of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier for Haenssler features a mixture of these four instruments), chose to play these concertos on the harpsichord, because Mozart is not known to have given performances on the piano at the time he and his father prepared the pasticcio concertos. This is a welcome change from most Mozart recordings, which assume that he played all his works on piano (or pianoforte). Also, a certain amount of improvisation is used - all embellishments and cadenzas were improvised, which is how this music was played in its time. The recording was also made at a pitch of a=430, which would be difficult with a modern piano.

An interesting recording of Mozart's earliest arrangements of keyboard concertos. Slightly marred by the harpsichord being drowned out by the orchestra, this disc is nevertheless a valuable addition to the collection of anyone interested in understanding Mozart's influences and earliest works.

Kirk McElhearn

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