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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-91)
The Piano Concertos, Vol. 6

Piano Concerto No 13 in C major, K415
Piano Concerto No 26 in D major, K537 ‘Coronation’
Matthias Kirschnereit (piano)
Bamberg Symphony Orchestra/Frank Beermann
recorded at the Sinfonie an der Regnitz, Bamberg, 10-12 March 2004
ARTE NOVA 74321 98494-2 [59'06"]

CDs seldom manage to accommodate more than two concertos, earlier pieces excepted: and couplings more often than not pair more-or-less contemporary pieces. So why these two particular concertos?

K415 (No. 13) is one of the three concertos written as a group in 1783, the others being K413 (No. 11) in F major and K414 (No. 12) in A major. In fact all three do fit on a single disc! These days, they tend to be performed with orchestral strings, or with solo strings - a ‘Piano Quintet’ - as sanctioned by Mozart, but seldom with the optional but colourful wind parts. Flute, oboes, bassoons, horns, and (in K415 only) trumpets and drums are available, but dispensable - contributing as they do only weight and colour, but with no thematic role.

K537 (No. 26) is a much later piece - only five years later, it is true, but much had happened in those intervening years! It coincidentally shares with K415 a frankly rather colourless orchestration, in which wind instruments seldom take a significant part in the musical argument. So none of precious piano-wind dialogue you get in virtually all of its 1784-91 neighbours, and everything of interest in either the 1st violins or the soloist’s right hand! It’s a problematical piece in other respects, written as it was in great haste, and containing much shorthand - missing left-hand parts, and naked right-hand lines which, based on Mozart’s known practice, not least in other more fully notated pieces, we can be sure the composer would have developed and embellished in performance.

So a semi-serious answer to my question ("why these two particular concertos?") is that these two pieces offer nothing of real interest to wind players! Happily and, as I’ve said, unusually Kirschnereit and Beerman include the optional wind and brass parts in K415, which creates a much more lively and robust orchestral sonority, and sets the scene for the piano’s first entry admirably.

Both orchestra and pianist play well on this disc, which is also very well recorded. That’s about as far as I’m able to go, I’m afraid. Take just about any alternative, and you’ll find - in Brendel, Uchida, Perahia, Schiff or Brendel - more precise shaping and subtler shading of material, with greater variety and more compelling characterisation, especially in rapid passagework. Similarly, Perahia’s or Uchida’s English Chamber Orchestra; Schiff’s Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra; Brendel’s Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields or Scottish Chamber Orchestra; or Goode’s Orpheus Chamber Orchestra - all of these deliver more accuracy and delicacy, sacrificing nothing in the way of masculinity, than the Bamberg players do on this disc. These are worthy and serviceable second-division performances which, good though they are, just miss the boat.

In short, if you’re ‘dipping’ into the Mozart concertos, you could definitely do better than these two pieces. And, if you’re building up a collection, you’d need to be penniless or pretty desperate for this oddball coupling to make out a good case for this recording over its multitudinous competitors.

Peter J Lawson

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