Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 - 1791)
Piano Concerto No.22 in E, K482 (1785) [32:12];
Piano Concerto No.24 in C minor, K491 (1786) [27:36]
David Greilsammer (piano), Suedama Ensemble
rec. January 2009, The Performing Arts Center, Purchase College, New York. DDD
NAÏVE V5184 [59:52]

K491 is, probably, Mozart’s most profund utterance in the medium he so loved. It’s three movements are almost tragic without respite; never despairing, never hopeless. For Mozart there is always, must always be, hope. It is a work of towering genius, and one which will always stand head and shoulders over the concertos on either side of it - the pretty K488 in A major and K503 in C. K482 is quite the opposite. It is big and bold - incorporating the largest wind band Mozart ever used in a Piano Concerto - and conceived on a grand scale. Both works need a special pianist to make them speak and David Greilsammer certainly has the technique, but does he have the musicality required?

K491 has always been one of my favourite Mozart piano concertos, therefore I always look for something special. I want the music to be dark, but not jet black, there must be some light admitted, and although the music is filled with tragedy there must be moments where it is allowed to smile. The tempi are of paramount importance; if you misjudge them you ruin the whole composition. Greilsammer, who directs the orchestra from the keyboard, chooses a tempo for the first movement which is so fast that it robs the music of tragedy, pathos, hope and desperation; it’s breathless. It couldn’t be more incorrect if it tried! For me, this immediately makes this recording a non-starter. The slow movement has a better tempo but it is still rushed. The finale is the problem movement: Mozart didn’t give it a tempo indication so you have to rely on your musicality in choosing a tempo. Yet again Greilsammer is too fast. What we have in this performance of K491 is a work which seems to be some kind of virtuoso showpiece. I was conscious throughout of the rushes of notes above all else - at the expense of the poetry of the music. I shall never forget Alfred Brendel’s final London performances last year when he gave this concerto. It was an interpretation of such epic simplicity that one was left speechless at the end; the performance was so fine that words were unnecessary. Here words come tumbling out, if only to express unhappiness.

For the complete Mozart concertos go to the wonderfully, and very reasonably priced, boxed set of Geza Anda, directing the Salzburg Mozarteum (Deutsche Grammophon 469 510-2). I always seem to be looking backwards for great performances of this work but then look at the calibre of the players. Clara Haskil, with the Franch 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, is as exquisite as ever, with the Concertgebouw under van Beinum on 78s recorded in 1948, 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 353 2112 with various conductors). For more modern sound there’s Alfred Brendel, with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under Mackerras (Philips 0289 462 6222 (K491 and K466)), or, indeed, Daniel Barenboim with the English Chamber Orchestra (Classics for Pleasure 2282782 coupled with K466).

K482 is a real extrovert piece, festive in its own way and a delight. I wonder why, on this disk, it follows K491 instead of preceding it. Perhaps the manufacturers thought that a happy ending was necessary. Greilsammer is certainly more comfortable here than in K491, for the happy mood suits him. Also this music is easier to understand. Once again I am conscious of the pianist’s runs and turns and I am less involved in the music. This CD is more David Greilsammer plays Mozart than Mozart played by David Greilsammer.

I really cannot raise any enthusiasm about this disk. Neither performance shows interpretive insight nor does it have that special spark which brings a performance to life. I learned K482 from the old Brendel Turnabout LP (now available on a 2 CD set containing K453. K503, K595, the Rondo K382, and Haydn’s Concerto in D, H18/11 as well as K482) and although the orchestral playing isn’t of the very best the performances are red hot, very exciting and pleasing. Otherwise Annie Fischer, with the Philharmonia under Wolfgang Sawallisch (EMI Great Recordings of the Century 562 7502, coupled with K467) is a must, as is Barenboim’s 1967 account with the English Chamber Orchestra (Classics for Pleasure 5 21868 2, coupled with K488).

With the best will in the world I cannot recommend this disk for it is not for the Mozartean. The interpretations are too misjudged. Neither is it for the general listener for it offers little to really get ones teeth into.

Bob Briggs