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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-91)
The Complete Piano Concertos
CD1 [73'37"] Piano Concerto No. 1 in F major, K37 (1764) Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, K39 (1764) Piano Concerto No. 5 in D major, K175 (1773) Piano Concerto No. 8 in C major, K246 (1776)
CD2 [75'44"] Piano Concerto No. 7 in F major for three pianos, K242 (1776) Rondo in A major, K386 (1782) Piano Concerto No. 9 in E flat major, K271 (1777) Rondo in D major, K382 (1782)
CD3 [70'19"] Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, K41 (1764) Piano Concerto No. 6 in B flat major, K238 (1776) Piano Concerto No. 3 in D major, K40 (1764) Piano Concerto No. 10 in E flat major for two pianos, K365 (1779)
CD4 [74'10"] Piano Concerto No. 11 in F major, K413 (1782) Piano Concerto No. 12 in A major, K414 (1782) Piano Concerto No. 13 in C major, K415 (1782)
CD5 [75'41"] Piano Concerto No. 14 in E flat major, K449 (1784) Piano Concerto No. 15 in B flat major, K450 (1784) Piano Concerto No. 19 in F major, K459 (1784)
CD6 [63'09"] Piano Concerto No. 17 in G major, K453 (1784) Piano Concerto No. 22 in E flat major, K482 (1785)
CD7 [70'02"] Piano Concerto No. 16 in D major, K451 (1784) Piano Concerto No. 18 in B flat major, K456 (1784) Piano Concerto No. 25 in C major, K503 (1st movement) (1786)
CD8 [75'26"] Piano Concerto No. 25 in C major, K503 (2nd and 3rd movements) (1786) Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, K467 (1785) Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, K491 (1786)
CD9 [63'25"] Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K466 (1785) Piano Concerto No. 27 in B flat major, K595 (1791)
CD10 [57'33"] Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K488 (1786) Piano Concerto No. 26 in D major, K537 ‘Coronation’ (1788)
Karl Engel (piano)
Till Engel (Piano - K242 and K365 only) and Leopold Hager (Piano - K242 only)
Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra/Leopold Hager
ecorded in Großer Saal des Mozarteums, Salzburg, 28-30 November 1974 (K453 and K488), 1-2 May 1975 (K595), 8-9 March 1975 (K449 and K503), 9-12 June 1975 (K175), 11 June 1975 (K595), 5 November 1975 (K37, K39 and K537), 19 May 1976 (K238, K414, K466 and K482), 31 May 1976 (K450), 2 June 1976 (K415), 1-2 December 1976 (K413 and K451), 12-18 June 1976 (K382, K386 and K467), 29 September 1977 (K242), 30 September 1977 (K365), 28 November 1977 (K246 and K459), 16 February 1978 (K40 and K41) and 18 February 1978 (K271)
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 61398-2 [10 CDs: 73'37" + 75'44" + 70'19" + 74'10" + 75'41" + 63'09" + 70'02" + 75'26" + 63'25" + 57'33"]


This set of Mozart’s Piano Concertos really is complete. You get the two-piano and three-piano concertos as well as all the solo concertos. You get the two alternative finales, the so-called Concert Rondos and you get the four very early concertos (K37, K39, K40 and K41) which - by cleverly adding orchestral ritornelli and accompaniments - the child Mozart ‘created’ from older composers’ sonatas.

Odd that these early, non-Mozart, concertos are interspersed among the other genuine early pieces: I can’t think of a possible rationale, musical or historical, for this, other than to spread the sparse interest in these pieces more evenly across a couple of discs. Odd too that the two Concert Rondos aren’t linked with the concertos they normally - or are most likely to - ‘belong’ to. For example CDs 2 and 3 are hotch-potch programmes, chronologically and stylistically! Talking of couplings, it’s very annoying to find the late-and-great C major, K503, being divided between two discs: why oh why, in 2004?

The packaging is rather bulky, with five discs in each of two library cases contained in a card outer. It may be a personal thing, but for big collections such as this one-off card boxes, with CDs accommodated in a number of paper sleeves, are much easier to handle. Raymond McGill’s notes are concise, readable and informative.

These are on the whole well-prepared and sympathetic performances. And the recorded sound is clean and nicely balanced, with a warm ambience. Uncontroversial in every way, both Engel (pianist) and Hager (conductor) adopt safe tempi, middle-of-the-road dynamics and agreeable phrasing. They also exhibit a sense of both style and characterisation. There is a notable absence of any kind of risk or exaggeration!

Unfortunately, there’s precious little in the way of what might be called ‘personalisation’ either - the sort of thing which could interfere with one’s listening pleasure, but which could equally well cause one to sit up, take notice, smile, jump, raise one’s expectations, heighten one’s enjoyment or make one’s heart beat a little quicker!

I am convinced that everything we know of Mozart from his letters, his lifestyle, but above all his music suggests he would have preferred more light and shade, more dash, more weight and more warmth than we have here in these oh-so-careful readings. There are countless examples in these sublime pieces of delicious instrumental effects, heart-stopping harmonies, surprise changes of itinerary and dramatic arrivals. Here most of these pass by virtually unnoticed or with merely token acknowledgement!

This kind of shortcoming matters most if you opt for long listening sessions, in which the sameness of approach and limitations in expressive range soon begin to take their toll. Listening to one concerto at a time, you might even value these readings precisely for their coolness and their objectivity: so beware how you interpret my comments!

I guess you could own and enjoy these performances for years without ever noticing the missing ingredients. But you probably wouldn’t ever experience the youthful energy of K271; the operatic antics of K453; the heavy introspection of K466; the dignified majesty of K482; the autumn sunshine of K488; the dark tragedy of K491; the majestic splendour of K503 or the quiet resignation of K595.

Unfortunately for Warner, collectors are spoilt for choice in this repertory, even without splashing out at full-price. Perahia’s matchless cycle on Sony with the English Chamber Orchestra (mixed ADD and DDD) can be got quite cheaply these days: so too can Schiff’s immaculately turned-out Decca performances (DDD) with the Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra under Sandor Vegh. And there’s no shortage of polished and revealing performances of selected pairings or groupings of concertos already reissued at mid or budget price: Brendel with Marriner (ADD) or Uchida with Tate (DDD) for example, both on Philips Duo. And, once we’re into the higher price range, you can have Goode with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (Nonesuch) or Brendel with Mackerras and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (Telarc) - all in absolutely first-rate digital sound. Ultimately, there’s not a great deal to choose between all these ‘rivals’. They’re all searching and stylish in their various ways, and frankly in a different musical and technical league to Engel and Hager.

If you’re the sort of listener who can’t decide who to vote for in the General Election; who drives well within every speed limit; who stays indoors lest it rains, or in case the sun comes out; who doesn’t mind watching Christmas television on a black-and-white portable; or who eats the same breakfast day in day out - these discs may well be up your street. But, if you’re remotely fastidious or adventurous, you may well find them as unsatisfying as I did, despite admiring them for their honesty and common musical sense.

Five out of ten - no more!

Peter J Lawson


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