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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto no.24 in C minor, K491
1. Allegro [13:56] (cadenza: Daniel Barenboim); 2. Larghetto [8:06]; 3. Allegretto [9:31]
Piano Concerto no.25 in C major, K503
1. Allegro maestoso [14:29] (cadenza: Daniel Barenboim); 2. Andante [7:38]; 3. Allegretto [8:42]
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Daniel Barenboim (piano and conductor)
Recorded in the Siemensvilla, Berlin, February 1988
WARNER ELATUS 2564 61358-2 [63:00]

Here are two of Mozart’s greatest concerti, written as he entered the final phase of his mastery, in strongly characterised performances by Daniel Barenboim, with one of the world’s truly great orchestras; can’t be bad can it?

Well, the answer is no it can’t, but the little caveat lies in the phrase ‘strongly characterised’ above. Not everyone will like Barenboim’s warmly Romantic approach to Mozart. He responds in an explicit way to every undercurrent in the music, in diametric opposition to the cooler ‘authentic’ approach. Indeed, some will feel his playing to be downright affected, though I certainly wouldn’t go so far as that. But I am more comfortable with a more detached interpreter – Perahia is the ideal – who allows the music to speak for itself a little more straightforwardly.

That said, this issue has much to treasure. Barenboim is a supreme chamber musician, and, directing from the keyboard as usual, he brings those qualities, so appropriate here, to the music. There is a real intimacy in the exchanges, and the balance between orchestra and soloist is unusually good. So often, one loses all the wonderful detail in the woodwind (e.g. in the central section of the 1st movement of K.491) because pianists assume their figuration is where the interest is – in reality, it’s often just an accompaniment to thematic developments elsewhere.

The string playing is, as you’d expect from the BPO, quite superb, and this adds another dimension to the slow Andante of K.503 – indeed, this movement was the highlight of the CD for me, its harmonic subtleties and delicate changes of mood perfectly achieved by the musicians.

The main cadenzas are by Barenboim himself, and have the great virtue of not being too long – indeed they are in ideal proportion with the movements in which they sit. They both become rather Beethovenian, though; the way Barenboim has seized on rhythmic motifs, and his use of various kinds of augmented 6th chords, brings to mind the Pathétique Sonata, or the C minor Concerto.

But the sublime, unsurpassed beauty of this music comes across in generous quantities in this fine issue – undoubtedly a bargain not to be missed.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

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