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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concertos: No. 9 in E flat, K271a (1777). No. 12 in A, K414b (1783). No. 26 in D, K537, 'Coronation'c (1790).
aMitsuko Uchida, cHomero Francesch (pianos);
aMozarteum Orchestra Salzburg/Jeffrey Tate;
bRoyal Philharmonic Orchestra/Vladimir Ashkenazy (piano/director);
cDeutsche Kammerphilharmonie/Gerd Albrecht.
Rec. aSalzburg Festival, 1989; bHampton Court Palace, 1990; cWiesbaden, 1990.
NTSC. 4:3. PCM Stereo. Dolby digital 5.1. DTS 5.1. Region Code: 0 (Worldwide).
Great Piano Concertos, Volume 1
EUROARTS 2010218 [95'00]

A fascinating idea. Not to bung three Mozart piano concertos on a DVD, of course, but rather to juxtapose three very different soloists. The problem comes with which order one should put them in. Euroarts opted to put best first, second best second and Francesch last. This product exudes the air of ongoing interpretative decrescendo. Effectively, one could switch off after the 'Jeunehomme', unless the pull of seeing Hampton Court Palace is too great.

Uchida's Mozart is well-known. Many love it, a possibly lesser number don't, finding it rather over-delicate. Jeffrey Tate elicits a big-boned sound from his orchestra, muscular and exciting. The two interpreters spark off each other, their differences offering fertile ground rather than conflict. So it is that solo-accompaniment dialogues are a consistent delight - an essential in this particular concerto. Tate's dark shading for the slow movement speaks of an undercurrent of drama that indeed surfaces intermittently. A nice moment of camera work, too ... the camera pans across the first violins, landing on Uchida just as she takes over the phrase. Lovely. A fast, buzzing finale continues the delight, Uchida's fingerwork ever-excellent. The orchestra almost matches her in sheer joie-de-vivre. Only the occasional sync-slip detracts from a charming account. Uchida, by the way, is as mobile as ever throughout.

Ashkenazy in Hampton Court Palace has an RPO on top form. The orchestra clearly responds to him. I wonder if this is one of Ashkenazy's favourites? I remember hearing a Radio 3 broadcast of him directing this work - Philharmonia, I believe, maybe early 1980s? His playing is rather dainty, his directing characterised by minimal gesture; sometimes he appears to be wafting in a Mozartian breeze rather than actually conducting! Ashkenazy's approach means the cadenza is like listening to him tread on eggshells.

The slow movement is better, nicely shaped and with real concentration. Tidy as ever, it leads to a finale wherein Ashkenazy is prone to push accents rather harshly. Nice enough overall, Ashkenazy nevertheless forms a 'bridge' between the excellence of Uchida and the greyness of Francesch.

Homero Francesch's biggest break was probably appearing on a Bernstein-conducted Les Noces, joined by Argerich, Zimerman and Katsaris. A Kontrapunkt artist, he presents Mozart's K537 here in a literal, plonky manner - he actually looks awkward and stolid, too. There is little fantasy here, more rigidity and turgidity. Even the inclusion of Edwin Fischer's Beethovenian cadenza - albeit with the occasional Impressionist wash - cannot raise the interest level particularly. The slow movement is quite simply nondescript - read completely uninvolving. The celebratory playing of the orchestra in the finale only points out Francesch's off-putting stabbing of accents. The applause is muted, deservedly.

Never mind, it was nice to see Gerd Albrecht in action.

Colin Clarke



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