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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, K467 (1785) [27:41]
Piano Concerto No. 25 in C major, K503 (1786) [31:23]
Stephen Kovacevich (piano)
London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Colin Davis.
rec. London, June 1972. ADD
PHILIPS ROSETTE COLLECTION 4765316 [60:04]
 


In the late 1980s these performances came out on a bargain Philips CD, with a cheap and nasty cartoon type cover. I recall purchasing it from Hickies in Reading. It was a very well regarded recording and had been made in 1972 when Stephen Kovacevich (previously Bishop) was at his height as a rising star along with other luminaries such as Barenboim. Du Pré and Perlman. Kovacevich’s recordings of Beethoven concertos, also under Colin Davis, had been made a year or two earlier and were similarly re-released in 1989 and likewise purchased by yours truly. I recall enjoying these performances but haven’t heard them for 15 years. The original CD must have been exchanged a few years back. Here it is again ready for re-appraisal in splendid new packaging. It proclaims “Rosette” status from the splendid and indispensable “Penguin Record Guide”.
 
Well! I knew they were very fine performances but listening to these two wonderful piano concertos over two weeks I would now put them at the top of the tree. The playing is just right throughout and the accompaniment under Sir Colin - still going strong at nearly 80, who responded warmly to my greeting at Christ Church recently - is marvellous. This was the period of his Mozart opera recordings and clearly he was in full communion with the Salzburg genius.
 
Piano Concerto No. 21 is often only thought of for the dreamy slow movement (Richard Clayderman et al!) but it is throughout one of Mozart’s top five (or six). The first chords of the opening movement are like a call-to-arms and right from the start you are engrossed in marvellous music here played supremely by a man who must have been about the same age as Mozart at the time! The interplay between pianist, woodwinds et al is just breathtaking. Unless you are averse to Mozart this is a compulsory listen; I can only apologise for neglecting this rendition for so long!  If you don’t know it or haven’t a good recording then rectify that situation now - get this CD! In these works I’m very fond of Lipatti in a live and exciting recording from late 1940s (EMI Classics GROC 67775B). Then again there’s Barenboim’s version - currently in an excellent value box of all the concertos made slightly earlier than Kovacevich with the ECO (EMI Classics 72930). That said Kovacevich and Davis seem to me to be perfect and the sound is splendidly burnished. The last movement has one of Mozart’s rousing rondos and pianist and conductor fire away with all the panache called for.
 
Piano Concerto No. 25 starts in a darker and more powerful way and is known to have heavily influenced Beethoven. It has an imposing beginning and once again the performers are at the top of their game. The slow movement is a favourite; the wit and development of Mozart never ceases to amaze. The playing does it justice in spades! Very moving indeed. For fun I compared Barenboim’s version with Klemperer and the New Philharmonia (“Great Pianists of Twentieth Century 9”, Philips 456722-2). This was recorded separately from his self-conducted ECO set. In the Andante Barenboim and Klemperer take two minutes longer. Hearing it after Kovacevich and Davis it sounds funereal; great playing but lacking the pulse needed in this music. It’s an interesting recording which I hadn’t come across before, knowing the ECO set, but it’s not a top recommendation. I think Kovacevich is totally right here. In the Allegretto Barenboim’s version is again slower but his playing is supreme; pity about the conductor! After the introduction Mozart brings in a melody to die for and Kovacevich at a faster pace than Barenboim is fully on top of the music throughout and the orchestra sympathetically accompany him to the triumphant conclusion.
 
There have been many superlatives in this review but they’re all deserved. This has been regarded as one of the definitive Mozart records and it still is! Enough - I’m going to listen to the music again!
 
David R Dunsmore
 

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