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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-91)
Piano Concerto No. 19 in F major, K459 (1784) [26:19]
Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K488 (1786) [25:11]
Rondo in A major for piano and orchestra, K386 (1782) [8:17]
John O’Conor (piano)
Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Sir Charles Mackerras
recorded in the Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 4-5 September 1990
TELARC CD-80285 [59:47]


I’m surprised the market can cope with yet another Mozart concerto disc. I say "yet another" despite, myself, enjoying an insatiable appetite for this sublime music, and for new recordings of it. But even I have to admit that many recent issues fit comfortably into the same pigeon-hole of well-recorded, stylish, modern-instrument performances, and separating the many virtues of one from the many virtues of another is becoming increasingly difficult. Who would dare to put Perahia, Schiff, Brendel, Uchida and Goode into some sort of batting order?

This disc starts off on the right foot by boasting Mackerras and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, who also accompany Brendel in his latest series on Philips. Forced into a corner, I would dare to suggest that, household name though Brendel is and O’Conor isn’t, O’Conor’s playing is every bit Brendel’s equal. Mackerras’s accompaniments, on the other hand, are marginally more precise and co-operative for Brendel than for O’Conor, with perhaps even better playing from the all-important orchestral soloists.

It seems to me that O’Conor has every one of the long list of necessaries for Mozart playing. His fingerwork is crystal clear, his left hand - unusually, even among great players - every bit as much as his right. His phrasing is immaculate - always agreeably articulated and shaped, never overstated, and with a strong sense of line. He shows a commendable awareness of both texture - where what he’s playing matters more or less than what’s in the orchestra - and structure where something deserves to be highlighted or withheld for best long-term impact. And he has a perfect grasp of idiom.

So there’s little here which could possibly offend. Except, perhaps, the closing bars of that most special of Mozart slow movements, the F sharp minor Adagio - the only music Mozart ever wrote in this key - of the K488 Concerto. This is one of those places where the ‘information’ Mozart gives us is bafflingly sparse. One side of the argument says this exemplifies the inspired simplicity of Mozart at his greatest and, like a priceless museum exhibit, must not be touched on any account. The opposite point of view insists that Mozart would have decorated such lines, pointing to various comparable instances where (perhaps with more time on his hands, or because someone other himself might have been playing it) he fills out such lines with subtle ornamentation. Of course even those who belong to the latter school tread carefully, lest they be caught out. But O’Conor goes for it! I’d say he’s almost completely convincing, but you may not care for it!

The F major Concerto is the least often played of the six 1784 concertos, but delightful from first bar to last, with gorgeous dialogues in the slow movement, and invigorating counterpoint in the Rondo finale. And it’s good to have an agreeably masculine performance of the one-off A major Rondo - slightly out of chronological and musical context - despite following the A major Concerto - but none the worse for that.

Peter J Lawson
O’Conor - a perfect grasp of idiom. ... see Full Review



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