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alternatively Crotchet

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

One assumes a special distinction given the appearance of this recording in the “Rosette Collection” and on this occasion the appellation is entirely correct. These are quite simply delightful and distinguished accounts, played with real distinction, feeling, articulation and awareness. Kovacevich is on top form - whether playing Mozart’s notes or those of his own devising for the cadenzas - and is ably supported by an alert and sensitive orchestra.
Concerto no 21, it seems, baffled the composer’s father Leopold on its first appearance who remarked: “…astonishingly difficult…several passages simply do not harmonise unless one hears all the instruments together.”
Possibly he was taken aback by the expert use of discord within a framework of counterpoint, or indeed by the fact that this opening movement presents no less than eight ideas capable, indeed worthy, of intricate development.
Well, the wealth of possibilities certainly does not baffle these artists, beginning as they do with an elegant rendering of the march-inflected opening phrases. The recording features what would be considered today a largish band, but one right “on the ball”. Splendid playing echoes every turn of Kovacevich’s pianism. I would mark out all the woodwind soloists in particular, who are an absolute joy throughout.
Moving to the slow movement one encounters an example of a so-called “reverie andante”, a beautiful dream-like movement used famously in the art film “Elvira Madigan”. Initially in the atmosphere of today’s “authentic” performances the tempo may seem a tad slow, but the pianist and conductor ensure that the music never drags or bogs down. In fact there is a perfect balance between poetry and animation. Interestingly I had to hand the CD featuring Karl Engel (playing on a Bosendorfer) with the Salzburg Mozarteum under Leopold Hager. Engel’s recordings are an important landmark since he was the first to record the works, in the 1970s, using the then newly available “Neuen Mozart-Ausgabe”. All the concertos are played exactly as written … no more, no less. The results are interesting, and I wouldn’t be without them on my shelves, but they emerge as penny plain – try for instance comparing the andante of No. 21 with Kovacevich and you’ll see what I mean.
Meanwhile I cannot emphasise enough how one’s ear is ravished not only by Kovacevich’s contribution but by the delicacy and point of the orchestra’s contribution … and what better way of illustrating that than by sampling the phrasing of the first oboe - Roger Lord, I presume? What divine playing.
The finale exhibits pearly finger-work from the pianist combined with a wonderful “opera-buffa” feel imparted to the orchestra from Davis. A delightfully impish style and one well caught in the recording … Walthamstow or Watford perhaps? … although Philips are their usual enigmatic selves, unrevealing of precise location or recording details.
Concerto number 25 is a much grander affair altogether; a “Jupiter” among the piano concertos, and not just because it shares the same key. Mozart felt, for the time being at least, that he had written enough keyboard concertos for his concert appearances and it seems he did, for a while at least, intend this to be the last in the series. Orchestration seems fuller here than in K467, though this is partly because of the greater presence given to the trumpets and drums; indeed there is altogether a more “Olympian” feeling. Kovacevich and Davis gauge this exactly, but yet again add point and alertness to the phrasing. The pianists’ cadenza I thought especially good.
The beautiful slow movement moves across the aural palette like the equivalent of a fine malt; a deep and complex interaction of textures, and is followed once again by a joyful finale. Incidentally I would part company with the anonymous sleeve-note writer at this point; he (or she) talks of the movement as being “playful but staid in its merriment”. The implication being that because of the “Olympian” C major feel of much of the work, Mozart couldn’t really let his guard down in the finale. Well I think Kovacevich and Davis feel differently, and that’s all to the good.
Once again this release has illustrated how, as a hard-pressed collector in the 1970s, I missed certain discs among the torrent of new releases which went on to become classics. I am very glad to have made its acquaintance now, albeit some thirty or so years late.
One tiny point though; having been somewhat confused by this pianist’s name changes over the years, (i.e. Stephen Bishop, Bishop-Kovacevich, and then just Kovacevich), if the cover is a reproduction of the LP of the early 1970s, shouldn’t he at this stage have been Stephen Bishop? Oh dear, I can feel the letters coming in already …
Meanwhile enjoy … I certainly did.

Ian Bailey

see also review by David R Dunsmore (Sept 06 Bargain of the Month)


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