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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
The Complete Piano Concertos - 250th Anniversary Edition

Concerto no. 1 in F major, K37
Concerto no. 2 in B flat major, K39
Concerto no. 3 in D major, K40
Concerto no. 4 in G major, K41
Concerto no. 5 in D major, K175
Karl Engel (piano)
Mozarteum-Orchester Salzburg/Leopold Hager
Concerto no. 6 in B flat major, K238
Concerto no. 8 in C major, K246
Daniel Barenboim (piano and conductor)/Berlin Philharmoniker
Concerto no. 9 in E flat major, K271
Mari-João Pires (piano)
Gulbenkian Orchestra/Theodor Guschlbauer
Concerto no. 7 in F major, K242 for three pianos
Karl Engel, Till Engel, Leopold Hager (pianos)/Mozarteum-Orchester Salzburg
Concerto no. 10 in E flat major, K365 for two pianos
Chick Corea, Friedrich Gulda (pianos)
Concertgebouw Orchestra/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Concerto no. 11 in F major, K413
Daniel Barenboim (piano and conductor)/Berlin Philharmoniker
Concerto no. 12 in A major, K414
Mari-João Pires (piano)
Orchestre de chambre de Lausanne/Armin Jordan
Concerto no. 13 in C major, K415
Mari-João Pires (piano)
Gulbenkian Orchestra/Theodor Guschlbauer
Concerto no. 14 in E flat major, K499 -
Concerto no. 15 in B flat major, K450
Daniel Barenboim (piano and conductor)/Berlin Philharmoniker
Concerto no. 16 in D major, K451
Sebastian Knauer (piano)
Camerata Salzburg/Sir Roger Norrington
Concerto no. 17 in G major, K453
Mari-João Pires (piano)
Gulbenkian Orchestra/Theodor Guschlbauer
Concerto no. 18 in B flat major, K456
Daniel Barenboim (piano and conductor) Berlin Philharmoniker
Concerto no. 19 in F major, K459
Tim Fellner (piano)
Camerata Academica Salzburg/Alexander Janiczek
Rondo in D major, K382
Mari-João Pires (piano)
Gulbenkian Orchestra/Theodor Guschlbauer
Concerto no. 20, K 466
Martha Argerich (piano)
Orchestra di Padova e del Veneto/Alexander Rabinovitch
Concerto no. 21 in C major, K467
Daniel Barenboim (piano and conductor)/Berlin Philharmoniker
Concert Rondo in A major, K386
Mari-João Pires (piano)
Gulbenkian Orchestra/Theodor Guschlbauer
Concerto no. 22 in E flat major, K482
Daniel Barenboim (piano and conductor)/Berlin Philharmoniker
Concerto no. 23 in A major, K488
Friedrich Gulda (piano)
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Rondo in A minor, K511 for solo piano
Mari-João Pires (piano)
Concerto no. 24 in C minor, K491
Daniel Barenboim (piano and conductor)/Berlin Philharmoniker
Concerto no. 25 in C major, K503
Sviatoslav Richter (piano)
Orchestra di Padova e del Veneto/Yuri Bashmet
Concerto no. 26 in D major, K537 "Coronation"
Friedrich Gulda (piano)
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Concerto no. 27 in B flat major, K595
Mari-João Pires (piano)
Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne/Armin Jordan
Recorded at São Carlos Theatre, Lisbon, July 1972 (K271, K453), July 1973 (K382, K386, K511), May 1974 (K415); Grosser Saal des Mozarteums, Salzburg, 5 November 1975 (K37, K39), 29 September 1977 (K242), 16 February 1978 (K40, K41; Mozarteum, Salzburg, 10-11 September 1997 (K459); Radio Lausanne, Switzerland, December 1976 (K414); Maison des Spectacles d'Epalinges, Switzerland, June 1977 (K595); Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, 20-21 June 1983 (K365), September 1983 (K488, K537); Siemensvilla, Berlin, November 1986 (K467), January 1989 (K482), 1988-89 (K491); Palazzo Giusti, Padua, September 1998 (K466); Teatro Regio, Parma, October 1993 (K503 live recording); Philharmonie, Berlin, January 1988 (K175, K238, K246), April 1993 (K456 live recording), March 1996 (K413) November 1996 (K415 live recording), January 1997 (K414 live recording)
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 62332 [76:11 + 66:44 + 70:06 + 74:25 + 76:34 + 66:53 + 68:21 + 71:06 + 62:33 + 64:32]
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Unsurprisingly, the record companies are already gearing up for another 'Mozartjahr', and this time it's next year's 250th anniversary of his birth.

Warner Classics have put together a number of cheap and cheerful boxed sets, from operas to chamber music, taking in this collection of all the piano concertos along the way.

I say 'cheap and cheerful' as none of these concerto recordings is new, and the set is accompanied by a booklet which is informative in a general sense but is clearly not tailor-made for the performances it accompanies. For example, Sviatoslav Richter's 1993 recording of K503 on CD9 has no first movement cadenza, creating a surreal structural lacuna. Did Richter have no time to prepare a cadenza? Does he believe it wrong to include material not composed by Mozart? Or did he perhaps suffer a memory lapse? Questions, questions ... but no answers.

Such quibbles, though, are ultimately outweighed by the undeniable riches to be found here. Though the performances are not all on the highest artistic level, they are without exception worth hearing, and there are some other valuable items thrown in for good measure, such as Mari-João Pires' sensitive version of the A minor Rondo, one of the composer's loveliest solo piano compositions.

And there are some real humdingers: Barenboim's performance of K450 in B flat, with the BPO in absolutely top form, is imbued with the true Mozartean spirit. Some of the less starry players turn in wonderful recordings too, notably Till Fellner in K459 and Friedrich Gulda in K488. Pires is always stylish, managing to convey the poetry without over-romanticising, and Martha Argerich gives a suitably fiery rendition of the D minor Concerto K466. Not one of my favourites, this, but a committed performance like such as we have here makes the best of it.

Only two of the twenty-seven piano concertos are in minor keys; other than K466 just mentioned, there is of course K491, arguably the finest of the lot, and surely one of the greatest concertos ever composed. Barenboim is again superb, and this is where having a truly world-class orchestra does pay off. The writing for woodwinds is one of the chief joys of these works, and the BPO wind soloists play with great beauty and musicianship. All the detail comes through so effortlessly, here as in the E flat concerto K482. On the minus side, Barenboim's tempo for the first movement of the famous C major concerto K467 is uncomfortably steady - too much maestoso, not enough Allegro.

The one major disappointment is the Richter performance mentioned above in relation to the absence of a cadenza. It's not just that particular feature that is lacking in this performance; there is a strange lack of charm, an absence of involvement, that sounds as if the pianist had little or no interest in the piece, and, though he plays technically accurately, didn't really want to be there at all! This is a 'live' performance, so I suppose we must simply acknowledge that even the greatest artists have an off-night occasionally. It's just bad luck the microphones happened to be there to pick this one up.

CD3 contains the two non-solo concertos - K242 for three pianos, K365 for two. The first is, frankly, an uninspiring piece, and receives a pedestrian performance and a rather boxy recording. K365 is a far more interesting work, with a bustling and eventful opening Allegro, a leisurely Andante, and a final Rondeau featuring one of the composer's most memorably sprightly tunes. But the real novelty here is the presence of the wonderful jazz pianist Chick Corea, partnering Friedrich Gulda. Better known for his collaborations with such musicians as Stan Getz, Corea has always been restlessly versatile, and certainly makes a splendid contribution to a sparkling version of this most entertaining work.

To turn to the first couple of CDs for a moment, it's fair to say that the early concertos, written when Mozart was very young, are comparatively routine exercises based on existing models. However, from no.5 in D, K175, they begin to fascinate with their adumbrations of the later, greater works. Sample, for example, the lovely Andante un poco adagio of K238 (CD2 track 2), which so clearly looks forward to the celebrated 'dream Andante' of K467 in C. Or the 'butter-wouldn't melt' Minuet that concludes K246 in C (CD2 track 6), so full of insouciant charm.

OK, these sets do give the impression of being somewhat hastily, not to say opportunistically, put together. And it's in the nature of these multi-performer boxes that there is a certain unevenness. Nevertheless, the general standard is high, and there are enough really outstanding performances to make this a very desirable collection.

Gwyn Parry-Jones



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