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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concertos: 15 in B flat, K 450; 21 in C, K.467; 23 in A, K.488*
Alfred Brendel (pianoforte), Academy of St. Martin in the Fields/Sir Neville Marriner
Recorded 1971* and 1981, London
PHILIPS 464 719-2 [78.02]
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Not so long ago I was reviewing a Vox Box dedicated to Brendel's earlier years and I noted how, in his Mozart, every note seems a pool of light, something which survived in spite of the crude recordings. And which has here survived the passing of 20-odd years (the recordings are excellent). After an introduction to K.467 which is straight-down-the-line to a fault (Marriner is most attentive thereafter) Brendel's entry simply bubbles with his enjoyment of the music, a mood he maintains right through the movement with countless felicities of phrasing and timing. His entry in the slow movement is quite remarkable. As he takes over the triplet accompaniment from the orchestra he is neither emphatic ("Now I've arrived") nor reticent (so you hardly notice he's come in). It is as though you are seeing another view of the same landscape. The music totally changes colour but the change seems to stem from one mind, not just the piano taking over from the orchestra. This is collaboration at the highest level, and it in no way falls off as the movement proceeds. Add a finale so pacy that it could have turned into a scamper were it not so clearly articulated and you have a K.467 to treasure.

In K.450 Brendel seems not so consistently in touch with his muse. Even the sound he makes is a little gruffer and he sometimes bumps notes capriciously in the middle of phrases for no apparent musical reason. Also, the tempo changes several times in the finale and this seems Marriner's doing as much as Brendel's. Of course, there are many fine and perceptive things and it is only by Brendel's own exalted standards that it disappoints, but adulation of Brendel (particularly in Great Britain) should not blind us to the fact that he has both great days and grey days.

Back ten years for a K.488 which is excellent, but which left me wishing I could remember it for something which differentiated it from all the other excellent K.488s I've heard. I took out the treasured old Annie Fischer recording (with Boult) and noted how a sort of divine impetuousness (already anticipated in Boult's introduction) leads to a more involving experience. Their slightly slower tempo in the finale allows for more characterful phrasing and a sense of joy which again seems to start from the conductor and be taken up by the soloist. (I enjoyed Brendel's K.467 so much that I felt no need to get out the Fischer version).

What a good thing we don't have to award stars any more. K.467 would have deserved as many as there are to give and I should have felt so mean knocking any off for the other two when they are so good. Was it my grey day rather than Brendel's? Well, after K.450 I went back to K.467 and only had my conviction reinforced that it's very special indeed.

Christopher Howell

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