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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 12 in A, K414 [26:33]
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 20 in d minor, K466 [31:21]
Six German Dances, K571 [10:22]
Prelude and Fugue in C K394 [10:06]
Rudolf Serkin, piano
English Chamber Orchestra/Alexander Schneider
Recorded at the Guildhall, London (Concerti, German Dances) 23 July 1966; Royal Festival Hall, London (Prelude and Fugue) 13 May 1968. MONO

This disc brings together two of the world’s great treasures: the musicianship of Rudolf Serkin, and the priceless archives of the British Broadcasting Corporation. In this installment of the ongoing BBC Legends series, we get a glimpse of the great pianist at the height of his powers and in the heart of his repertoire.

Opening with the rather sunny twelfth piano concerto, one senses right away that both soloist and conductor are in complete command of the elegance and grace of classical period music. Although these recordings were made before much of the vast performance practice research had been carried out or put into practice, one still gleans the feeling these artists had for formal structure, balance, reserve and charm. Serkin’s technique was legendary, and his obsession with perfection well documented. Such obsessions pay off here as he delivers a truly lovely performance, marred only by the occasional tubercular hack from an audience member. Of particular note is the seamless cantabile that he achieves in the slow movement. Orchestral balance is very fine, and in spite of some occasional background noise, these mono recordings hold up nicely in sound quality as well.

The D minor concerto is considerably darker and more turbulent than K414, but is not without its fair share of majestic beauty. Schneider does not over-blow the turbulent opening movement, but instead assigns to it a palpable gravitas and majesty. Another singing slow movement is followed by a rollicking Rondo as only someone with Serkin’s fingers can accomplish.

The German Dances make for a nice treat given that they are seldom programmed or recorded. The prelude and fugue is also an interesting morsel, but I found the playing a bit harsh and punchy. One might prefer more of the elegance of the concerto recordings.

This is a very fine slice of history indeed, and one that should interest and delight a broad spectrum of listeners. Recommended.

Kevin Sutton


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