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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No.20 in D minor, KV.466 (1785)
Piano Concerto No.22 in E flat major, KV.482 (1785)
Fantasy in D minor, KV.397 (1782)
Michel Dalberto, Steinway Piano D274
Ensemble Orchestral de Paris/John Nelson
Recorded at Maison de líOrchestre National dílle de France, Alfortville,
August/September 2000
RCA BMG 74321844792


Michel Dalberto has made many recordings for Denon and Erato, and he now has an exclusive contract with BMG. Unfortunately, his United States exposure is slight as his recordings either get pulled soon after release or they never get distributed here at all. Record company logic is that a significant number of performers will not sell in the States, but how they make their determinations is a mystery that will never be solved.

Not a mystery is the excellent artistry that Dalberto has displayed in his many recordings, including his complete Schubert Piano Sonata series on Denon. John Nelson has also been highly successful on record. I first made his acquaintance with the Erato recordings of Berliozís "Béatrice et Bénédict" in 1991, and he has made many recordings since that time with a strong preference for Handelís vocal works. Of course, the competition in Mozartís piano concertos is fierce, and any new release has to be distinctive and stunning in order to break into the top ranks. Although both Dalberto and Nelson offer fine performances, the readings are not superior to most of the alternative recordings made in recent years.

Before going into specifics about the performances, Iíd like to offer my perspective of the musical and emotional progression that Mozart exhibited in his piano concertos as he matured. Although his concertos through No.19 are exceptionally crafted and memorable, it is his 20th in D minor where we start to hear a mature manís music permeated with the regrets and underside of life as well as its richness. In the D minor, qualities such as angst, foreboding, grief, and intense determination rear their heads. These traits begin right at the start of the work and maintain their hold throughout the 1st Movement. After a gorgeous first section to the 2nd Movement, the dark reaches of the mind strike with a vengeance. Even the often exuberant and playful 3rd Movement has negative weight flowing through it.

Dalberto and Nelson are excellent in the D minorís outer movements. They well capture the negative mind-set of each movement as well as the exuberance and strength. I take issue with Dalbertoís treatment of the first section of the 2nd Movement Romance. This section needs to be played in complete unison with the orchestra and in a highly fluid manner in order to convey the musicís relaxed state of rapture. Dalberto tends to shorten note values and often plays either ahead or behind the beat established by Nelson. The result is some loss of fluidity, and Dalberto seems anxious to get to the second section to flex his angst and tension. As it happens, Dalbertoís second section is exceptional. Both he and Nelson mine the musicís tension and drama from the beginning with a sense of urgency not usually found in other interpretations.

All goes very well in the more cheerful E flat major Concerto. Here, each movement is given its full measure of exuberance, and the poignancy of the 2nd Movement Andante is quite appealing. Recorded sound is excellent, although I would have preferred that Dalbertoís piano be placed more forward in the soundstage.

For comparisons, I listened to recordings from Ivan Moravec on Hänssler, Alfred Brendel on Philips, Keith Jarrett on ECM, Murray Perahia on Sony, and Andras Schiff on Decca. From my view, Dalberto and Nelson hold up very well to these other excellent versions except for the first section of the D minorís 2nd Movement. To hear a sublime 2nd Movement, check out the Jarrett performance where he displays complete unanimity with the orchestra and makes sure to retain a relaxed and comforting atmosphere.

Overall, I have no problem recommending the Dalberto disc that gives us great music idiomatically played except for the problems I noted above with the 2nd Movement of the D minor. I do believe that the recording might be superfluous to the seasoned collector, but all others should get many hours of enjoyment from this new Mozart offering. My understanding is that Dalberto will again be precluded from availability in the United States, but European sales websites can solve that situation as long as buyers are willing to pay the shipping costs. However, I donít consider the performances good enough to pay more than the premium price asked at your local retail store.
Don Satz



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