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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 21 in C, K. 467 (1785) [27:22]
Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat, K. 482 (1785) [33:36]
Jonathan Biss (piano)
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
rec. live, 15-16 March 2008, Lefrak Concert Hall, Queens College, Flushing, New York. DDD
EMI CLASSICS 2172702 [61:07]
Experience Classicsonline

One might think, and justifiably so, that the world does not need another recording of these two popular Mozart piano concertos. Yet, when they are performed and recorded as well as they are here, all criticism is silenced. Credit for this is due not only to the superb pianism of Jonathan Biss, who has really come into his own of late, but also to the wonderful Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, who are full partners in the enterprise.
I compared these recordings with two of my favorites, the 1972 performance of K. 467 by Stephen Kovacevich and Sir Colin Davis with the LSO on Philips and the 2000 performance of K. 482 by Alfred Brendel and Sir Charles Mackerras with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra also on Philips. In both cases, Biss and Orpheus hold their own against such formidable competition. In some respects, especially the immediacy of the recorded sound, I prefer this new one. In other instances I marginally lean towards one or other of the older performances, but as a whole Biss/Orpheus are a truly winning combination.
First of all, Biss’s tempos are really bracing where they need to be. His overall timing in K.482, especially, is somewhat shorter than Brendel’s without ever feeling breathless. It could be argued that Brendel/Mackerras bring more depth in their interpretation, but I did not really feel that was the case. As I said, both approaches are valid. Where the new recording really stands out, though, is in the delectable woodwind solos by the Orpheus orchestra. The clarity and warmth of the recording is an advantage here, but in both concertos the winds play with real character and at the same time such beauty of tone. This is particularly notable in the clarinet parts in K. 482, where Mozart substituted the usual oboes with clarinets. The winds are equally delightful in K. 467. Both Bass and the orchestral soloists play with a certain freedom that never goes over the top, but stays within the boundaries of good, Classical taste. There are certain advantages of having a conductor-less orchestra, in that it results in a chamber music feeling that at times is inhibited by too prominent a podium presence. Not that I am intimating here anything negative in Davis’s and Mackerras’s contributions in the recordings cited above. However, the Mozart concertos lend themselves well to the give-and-take of chamber musicians playing together, as Murray Perahia and others also proved in their recordings of these works. In K. 467, while I like Kovacevich/Davis and Biss/Orpheus about equally in the outer movements, the latter really outshine the former in the concerto’s famous Andante. Biss takes 6:34 for the movement and Kovacevich 7:41, but it is not just the slightly faster tempo that makes the difference. I always thought Kovacevich was about perfect here and avoided any hint of sentimentality; however, Biss is that much lighter in his touch, more Classical, and makes Kovacevich now seem a bit heavy in comparison. In K. 482, again Biss is slightly faster and lighter than Brendel, but it’s more a case of the recorded sound being much more luminous and allowing the listener to really appreciate the dialogue between the piano and the orchestra, especially the woodwind parts, that sets the two recordings apart.
On a technical note, Biss supplies his own cadenzas for both concertos, except for the finale of K. 467 where he employs a cadenza of Dinu Lipatti. Biss’s own cadenzas are stylish and fit in well as does Lipatti’s. Biss also provides the main booklet note. Like his pianism, his writing is very refreshing. He describes the works very well and from a pianist’s perspective. However, I should mention that the composition year of both concertos is 1785, not 1786 as stated in the booklet. Indeed, 1785 was a watershed year for Mozart piano concertos, as the great D minor, K. 466 was also composed in that year, one month before K. 467. It is curious that there is not a word in the booklet about Jonathan Biss, but there is a page devoted to the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. There is also a helpful listing of Orpheus’ members, something I wish more CD booklets would contain. The orchestral players and particularly the wind soloists deserve this kind of credit.
In sum, no matter how many recordings you may have of these concertos, you should consider adding this to your collection. I think you will find that Jonathan Biss and his colleagues bring a fresh and individual approach to these great works.
Leslie Wright

see also review by Kevin Sutton



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