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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 17 in G, K453 (1784) [32:07]
Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K466 (1785) [31:25]
Orchestra di Padova e del Veneto/Vladimir Ashkenazy (piano).
rec. live, Wiener Konzerthaus, 23-24 October 2003. DDD
EXTON OVCL-00170 [62:33]

There is a sort of déjà vu associated with new issues of Ashkenazy in Mozart, given his long association with this composer, and especially his Decca recordings with the Philharmonia. I particularly treasure an LP of his No. 22, a big-boned reading that, at the time in my development when I bought it, struck me as just right. Here he is in two well contrasting works with a much less well known, Italian, orchestra recorded live in Vienna and issued on a Japanese label.

Ashkenazy's tone is instantly recognisable still, light, clean and ever so slightly hard. His musicality is intact, indeed constant, over the years. Staccato is light and never once is there a hint of pedal smudge. Yet it is the orchestra that sounds more engaged, to my ears, than the pianist himself. Ashkenazy comes closest to taking off in the cadenza, which is technically impeccable; but he still holds back at the last minute.

The orchestra begins the slow movement with amazing finesse. Textures are superbly weighted and there is a real sense of concentration. The piano entry finds Ashkenazy, this time, matching his accompanists. If some difficulties in the low winds reflect the live provenance, this remains a wonderfully delicate reading. The last movement begins in sprightly fashion, although arguably too speedily for an Allegretto - one has to leave room for the coda to make its mark There is much grace, however, and Ashkenazy even allows himself a mini-cadenza, more extended than one often hears, immediately prior to the closing pages.

This is not the only Mozart 20 that this orchestra has recorded. On a Warner Elatus issue, Argerich gives us this concerto while Richter, no less, plays No. 25 (0927 467402). Here, they capture the stormy D minor mood well, while Ashkenazy allows himself a little more romantic leeway in his phrasing; just a hint, but enough to make it matter. High strings start to sound a little shrill here in the louder dynamics, but caveats are balanced by the cadenza. This Ashkenazy launches into with a vengeance, trills abuzz, leading to a remarkably dramatic display. Only the very end is a bit careful, making it absolutely clear to the orchestra when to re-enter..

The slow movement seems to have a lot of Don Giovanni-like guts about it in its stormier sections, portions which link to the determined mood of the finale. Here lies the most involving playing of the entire disc, but it was still not enough to fully engage the listener.

The disc is a CD/SACD/SACD five-channel hybrid. The sound is spectacularly clean - matching Ashkenazy's playing, it could be argued - and the disc as a whole acts as an indicator of what relatively recent Ashkenazy sounds like in Mozart. No clear first recommendations here, though.

Colin Clarke


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