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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto no. 22 in E flat, K.482, Piano Concerto no. 24 in c, K.491
Fou Ts’ong (piano/conductor)/Sinfonia Varsovia
Recorded in the Warsaw Concert Hall of the Fryderyk Chopin Conservatory of Music, date not given
MERIDIAN CDE 84486 [64’ 46"]

At a time when we are told that classical music doesn’t pay and the majors are all cutting right back to concentrate on a mere handful of over-hyped artists, a small number of pianists seem to have found an independent solution – that is to say a tame record company – which lets them bring out pretty well what they want. Joyce Hatto has been setting down a large portion of her vast repertoire over the last decade for Concert Artist/Fidelio (a label which has also preserved a wide range of the interpretations of the late Sergio Fiorentino), Craig Sheppard has had a series of his live performances come out on the AT label which, if I have understood the set-up aright, has been created for the purpose by his agent. Ivory Classics have been busy setting down the work of the legendary Earl Wild, as well as that of Ruth Slenczynska and several others, Golomb Records have promoted the art of Alexander Tselyakov, Eroica that of Zeynep Ucbasaran. Nina Milkina will, alas, be making no further records, but her son has obtained from EMI the rights to some of her Pye recordings and issued them on his Unterschrift label. And here on Meridian Fou Ts’ong has made over a dozen albums, including two further Mozart couplings with this same orchestra. It would be interesting to know the economic results of these various projects, which are just a short list from recordings I have actually had for review – there are others around.

Fou Ts’ong, a Chinese pianist born in 1934, has been a warmly regarded artist for as long as I can remember, indeed longer than that, since he moved to Europe 50 years ago. The booklet does not exaggerate when it says that his London recitals are attended by some of the most famous pianists around, but somehow the recording scene has never taken him up in a big way. A few recordings were made quite early in his career, I think for Westminster (they came out on World Record Club and there was a Mozart concerto coupling with Brian Priestman on Music for Pleasure). There was also a brief contract with CBS in the late LP era but that has been about it. Until now.

These Mozart performances will be prized by those who value Mozart for the combination of resigned sadness and Olympian calm which lie beneath his rococo surface. Not that Fou Ts’ong lacks brilliance or vitality, indeed, occasionally his performances forge ahead of the tempo in a way that suggests a disarming spontaneity rather than lack of discipline. However, the ultimate impression is of an artist reaching for something deeper below the surface. Conducting as well as playing seems to come very naturally to him, for these performances are extremely well integrated. It is noticeable that he is able to introduce a degree of expressiveness in the slow movements – which are very slow – without losing sight of the longer line and without suggesting an ill-placed attempt at romanticising the music. Also his pedalling is rather more liberal than we are told is ideal in Mozart, yet the results are far from being an indistinct wash of sound and he never seems to lose sight of Mozartian scale. As well as the gravely paced slow movements, the finales are both very gently taken, with the slower episode in that of K.482 magically still, quite without the minuet character it is usually given (Peter Charleton cannot have heard the performance when he wrote his otherwise useful note). First movements flow at more "usual" tempi.

It should be clear now that this well-recorded disc is very highly recommended if you are at all in sympathy with this type of approach. It may be that you will seek something altogether more brilliant, and some will want the fortepiano. I hope my description will make it clear whether this could be the approach for you, and I must say I hope it will be, for I personally look forward to obtaining a great deal of future listening pleasure from this disc.

Christopher Howell



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