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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
Piano Concerto No.20 in D minor, K466 (1785) [32:08]
Piano Sonata in C, K545 (1788) [10:34]
Piano Concerto No.24 in C minor, K491 (1786) [32:06]
Daniel Barenboim (piano and director)/English Chamber Orchestra
rec, 1967 (K466), 1973 (K491) and 1985 (K545) ADD (Concertos)/DDD (Sonata)


Experience Classicsonline

These two concertos are the only piano concertos Mozart wrote in the minor key, and they are passionate, dark and dramatic. In fact, they’re almost operatic in their sweep and huge expressive range. Were there still people around who believe that Mozart had no depth then let them listen to these works.

The D minor Concerto begins in uncertainty, rather in the manner of the 38th Symphony and the overture to Don Giovanni before a tutti brings things together. After that Mozart builds a big climax which only subsides to allow the piano to enter, in a most understate way. He’s not interested in the themes, he just wants to ruminate on the mood of the material. It’s a bold move and one which unsettles the listener for you don’t know where you are, musically speaking, and for quite some time the melodic ideas are all held by the orchestra with the piano accompanying. Then the dialogue between soloist and orchestra begins and Barenboim keeps a high degree of tension throughout this tortured music. The cadenza, by Beethoven and arranged by Edwin Fischer, is no mere overt display, it continues the argument all the way to the desperation of the coda. The release which the Romance brings is most welcome. Barenboim hits exactly the right tone and makes the contrast between the movements all the more striking, bringing out the operatic similarities with some most expressive playing. The anguished middle section comes as quite a shock after all the calm but the beast is ultimately quelled and order returns. This is marvelous stuff. Beginning with a Mannheim Rocket, the finale races away, tension returning to the music. Barenboim takes a very brisk view of this music and it can take the helter–skelter pace for this is music of torment. The episodes in this rondo are quieter, more relaxed, but there’s always the worry that this easier music will be shattered; however, it is the good natured music which brings the Concerto to its whirlwind conclusion. This is a masterful interpretation, soloist and orchestra as one in bringing out all the angst contained within much of the music.

The start of K491 couldn’t be more different from that of K466. Here the orchestra sets off with a purpose, sometimes gentle and thoughtful, sometimes dramatic and forthright. Trumpets and drums add to the excitement Mozart whips up before the almost non–chalent entry of the soloist. There’s more overt display here for the piano than in K466 but the music is still dark and challenging. The cadenza, when it comes, written by Barenboim, is similar in manner to the Beethoven cadenza for K466, carrying forward the argument, and keeping the pressure on the listener. The coda snuffs out any hope of an happy ending, and there is a glorious absence of rallentando here. As with the earlier work, the Larghetto is relaxed and comforting, distinguished with some beautiful wind playing. The variations of the finale plunge us back into areas of uncertainty. The fast coda leaves us in no uncertainty that when the door is slammed shut that’s that, there is no more. It’s quite a shocking end and Barenboim makes it heart-stoppingly severe.

Between the two concertos there’s, quite needlessly, a performance of the Piano Sonata in C, which is a lovely piece, full of tunes and welcome smiles, delightful in its innocence, but this lighter fare has no place here.

The performances are magnificent. Barenboim directs from the keyboard and there’s a real feeling of intimacy in the Concerto performances. The English Chamber Orchestra is on top form, supplying more than just an accompaniment, and entering into the musical argument at every step. The sound is mellow and very well balanced. The Sonata was recorded more recently and the sound is bright and clear but not as smooth as the concertos.

It’s good to be able to welcome these fine performances back into the catalogue.

Bob Briggs


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