Unlike the majority of
Regis CDs, which are reissued under licence, this is a new recording,
made in 2004. Regis have already issued a series of recordings
of Mozart’s solo piano works with Tirimo, available both as
single CDs and in multi-disc permutations. These solo recordings
are well worth exploring: they are listed in the CD booklet
and their virtues are extolled on the back-cover notes.
My first impressions were
somewhat unfavourable: in the orchestral opening of Concerto
No. 22, placed first on the disc, the bass booms and sounds
somewhat unfocused, though the ear soon adjusts. I tried again,
this time using a pair of good headphones, and the problem was
much less apparent; it may be that Regis assume that most people
will listen to their CDs on smaller systems, where the bass
problem would be much less noticeable. Perhaps the acoustic
of the recording venue - merely given as ‘Athens’ in the notes
- is to blame. Elsewhere the recording is perfectly acceptable
though it sometimes over-favours the timpani and obscures one
or two orchestral details behind the predominant string sound.
The balance between piano and orchestra is more or less ideal.
Tirimo’s playing exhibits
the same qualities that won praise for his solo recordings –
good, honest interpretations which do not interpose themselves
between the music and the listener. The Prague Chamber Orchestra
follows his direction in the same vein. The practice of directing
from the keyboard brings general unanimity between soloist and
orchestra, although, like Barenboim’s two recordings of these
concertos, playing and directing the English Chamber Orchestra
and later the Berlin Philharmonic, these are in no sense ‘period’
performances. Tirimo uses a modern piano, though he does occasionally
add some discreet and unobtrusive decoration to the solo part.
Regis have chosen to place
No. 22 first. Tempi throughout are well chosen, though Tirimo
is apt to linger a little too long in the andante second
movement: at 9:14 he is a good minute slower than Jeno Jandó,
his principal competitor in this price range. In other movements
time comparisons are less helpful, since the variety of cadenzas
available clouds the issue – in fact, Regis fail to tell us
whose cadenzas are employed here. The otherwise helpful and
informative booklet might have given us this information and
omitted some of the biographical details about Tirimo. The
finale goes with a real swing.
The same observations apply
to No. 20, except that here Tirimo is a little too inclined
to linger at times in the opening allegro, while the
second movement romance, at 9:15, is more in line with
expectations. Once again the finale is lively. One
advantage of placing this concerto last is that the disc ends
with what is for me slightly the better performance of slightly
the greater of the two concertos.
Though there is plenty
of competition in these two concertos, no current single disc
offers this logical coupling. The obvious competition comes
from Jandó who couples Nos. 11 and 22 on Naxos 8.550206 and
Nos. 13 and 20 on 8.550201 – in each case combining a less well-known
work with one of the 1785 masterpieces. Both Tirimo and Jandó
offer performances which would satisfy the audience in any concert
and there is little in either for the most Beckmesser-like critic
to mark as faults on his slate, but both lack that last degree
of individuality which would make them first-class. The Naxos
recording is much more open than the Regis: the opening of K482,
which made such an adverse impression at the start of the Regis
disc sounds much more natural on the Naxos recording. Though
the bass is still not quite ideally focused, the overall effect
is much more acceptable.
I don’t wish to be too
hard on Tirimo: I have already listened to his recordings of
these concertos several times without fatigue – indeed, they
have grown on me – and I cannot imagine anyone regretting the
small outlay required for either the Regis or the Naxos discs,
but I wish Eloquence would reissue the Kovacevich/Davis versions
of Concertos Nos. 20 and 23 which used to be available on Philips
Concert Classics. (Nos. 21 and 25 have recently reappeared
‘Rosette’ recordings.) Kovacevich and Davis do not impose
themselves on the music any more than Tirimo or Jandó but their
performances are captivating. After playing their version of
No.20 for comparison, I was unwilling to stop the CD and continued
listening to the end of No.23, feeling that I had listened to
‘real’ performances to which I would wish to return time and
time again despite years of familiarity with these concertos.
Kovacevich’s playing is precise yet delicately nuanced where
Tirimo sounds merely forthright, the LSO sound much more like
a chamber orchestra than the Prague Chamber Orchestra on Regis
and the analogue 1978 recording more than holds its own against
Regis’s digital sound. Some may feel differently, preferring
Tirimo’s added ornamentation and slightly faster tempo in the
slow movement of No. 20, where Kovacevich is inclined to linger.
As a fan of authenticity I might expect to prefer Tirimo here
but my heart says otherwise: Kovacevich does not linger a whit
too long for me.
In the absence of Kovacevich
I recommend Ashkenazy’s bargain Double Decca of Concertos 20-21
and 23-25 (452 958-2, also led from the keyboard) or the mid-price
Curzon/Britten recordings of Nos. 20, 23, 24, 26 and 27 (468
491-2). If you must have Nos. 20 and 22 together, try the Uchida/Tate
versions of Concertos 19-23 on Philips Duo 468 540-2.
Regis’s front cover reproduces
the smug Mozart of the Tischbein portrait. Perhaps they could
have been a little more imaginative.