Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 - 1791)
Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, K491 (1786) [31:35]
Piano Concerto No. 25 in C, K503 (1786) [30:50]
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Daniel Barenboim (piano)
rec. February 1988, Siemensvilla, Berlin. DDD
WARNER MAESTRO 2564 69175-9 [62:57]

In October last year I welcomed the re-issue of Barenboim’s 1973 recording of K491 with the English Chamber Orchestra (Classics for Pleasure 2282782 coupled with the Concerto in D minor, K466 and Sonata in C, K545) and found it to be “magnificent” and the performance to have “a real feeling of intimacy.” (see review)

Fifteen years later, an older, and one supposes wiser, Barenboim returns to the same music but with a different idea of how the music should play and with an orchestra which many wouldn’t choose for this kind of intimate concerto.

K491 begins quite baldly; there’s no mystery, no excitement for what is to come, and when we reach the first tutti we realize that the tempo is far too fast to allow for the tragedy which is unfolding before our ears. It’s all handled too heavily and without recourse to rubato or anything which will break up the straightforward three-beats-to-a-bar. I don’t expect this music to smile, far from it. Mozart is far too immersed in his problems to have the time for a smile to cross his lips. Barenboim is certainly subtler than his orchestra but he’s still rather hard-driven, and although there are flashes of the younger Barenboim, from the CFP recording, this is a much older man’s reading which is rather bogged down by an unwelcome weightiness. This is very noticeable in the first movement cadenza - by Barenboim - which is too Schumann and not enough Mozart. The slow movement was relatively free from these problems but with the finale we are supposed to enter a world of rare desperation, but here it is played too quickly and, as such, it loses all sense of gravitas; indeed, at times it’s almost jaunty! Suddenly, at 4:43 Barenboim gets it right - there’s mystery and intensity, and that edgy feeling which has been missing throughout the performance. Apart from the huge rallentando at the final cadence, this is how it should be!

K503 is a much more outgoing work - it’s in C major for a start! Much of what I wrote about K491 can equally be relevant here. The orchestral music of the opening movement is far too aggressive, and Barenboim is happier than in the earlier work, but his own cadenza, as in K491, isn’t quite appropriate. The slow movement failed to engage me and the finale, whilst taken at the correct tempo and has an attempt at wit, fails entirely for it doesn’t charm. Overall, neither performance scintillates.

The recording is bright and clear enough but lacks sparkle; it’s not dull, it simply isn’t alive. For me, the best buy for the Mozart Concertos is still Geza Anda’s boxed set of the complete concertos, at bargain price (Deutsche Grammophon 469 510-2). As usual I look into the past for the most intelligent performances of this music when recommending disks. For K491 Clara Haskil, with the French National Orchestra under Cluytens, in a live performance from 1955, is quite outstanding (Music and Arts CD863, coupled with a live Beethoven 4th Concerto). Kathleen Long, exquisite as ever, with the Concertgebouw under van Beinum on 78s recorded in 1948, is in a mixed programme which includes K450, conducted by Boyd Neel (Dutton CDBP 9714). For a real aristocratic and intelligent performance look no further than Solomon in K450, K488 and K491 (EMI Classics 353 2112 with various conductors). For more modern sound, Alfred Brendel, with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under Mackerras in both works (Philips 0289 462 6222 (K491 and K466) and 0289 470 2872 (K503 and K271)), or, indeed, Barenboim’s earlier CFP recording. For K503 I only have two recommendations. For the historical performance Michelangeli, with the Orchestra Filarmonica “Alessandro Scvarlatti” della RAI di Napoli under Franco Caracciolo, live in 1957 (Altara ALT 1023 - coupled with a stunning live Rachmaninov 4th Concerto). For more modern sound there’s Murray Perahia, directing the English Chamber Orchestra (Sony 074643726726 - coupled with the early Concerto K175).

Bob Briggs