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Humanity Classics
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1792)

Piano Concerto No. 17 in G, K453a (1784) [31’12].
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)

Appalachian Spring (1943/4) [25’50].
Alfred SCHNITTKE (1934-1998)

Concerto Grosso No. 6ab (1993) [12’14].
aFalko Steinbach (piano); bYosif Raduinov (violin);
Bulgarian Orpheus Chamber Orchestra /Raitscho Christov. DDD
The proceeds of the CD go to the home for mentally retarded women in Malko Scharkovo, Bulgaria.
ANTES EDITION BM-CD31.9187 [70’07]


A unique coupling. Quite a strange one, too. One could argue that the Mozart and Copland are linked by their zest for life (although see comments on the performance of the Mozart below); quite where the Schnittke fits in is anybody’s guess.

Mozart’s seventeenth piano concerto is in one of that composer’s ‘open’ keys. There is an endless optimism in this music, a never-ending freshness that is almost invincible. Almost. Falko Steinbach and the Bulgarian Orpheus Chamber Orchestra give an account that is thoroughly old-style, completely free of any informed historical musicology. Textures are thick, tempi stodgy (the reverb on the recording hardly helps). Steinbach has prepared the piano part well, so that scales are neat enough and his own cadenza to the first movement is stylish and carefully thought through. His cadenza in the second movement (which almost acts as a second slow movement, alas) is interesting, managing to be restful yet harmonically interesting at the same time. But the slow movement itself emerges as something one might hear on a cheap compilation sold near the checkout of a major supermarket, far too soupy and syrupy, and intended merely as background music. The finale begins well (apoggiaturas nice and chirpy!), but it becomes sleepy all too soon.

Perhaps the Copland was chosen for its sleepier sections, for the Bulgarian Orpheus Chamber Orchestra do them very well. The more animated music is nice and pointed, however, and rhythms become more sprung as a freshness enters the playing. More likely that the Copland was chosen to act as a bridge between the Mozart and the Schnittke, then. For the Schnittke there are two preferable choices: English Symphony Orchestra/Boughton on Nimbus NI1582, or Chandos CHAN9359 (with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra under Gennadi Rozhdestvensky), both in better couplings. In a sense it is a pity that the competition is so hot, as the Schnittke represents the best of the present Antes disc. The players convey the rapidly shifting moods of the first movement well and the second movement (for violin and piano alone) is eloquent and lyrical. The rhythmically alive finale has a musical argument that is fascinating to follow. But it is all too little too late. It would be difficult to recommend this disc at any price.

Colin Clarke

 



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