Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No.25 in C, K503 (1786) [31:41]
Piano Concerto No.22 in E flat, K482 (1785) [34:16]
Paul Badura-Skoda (piano)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Horst Stein (K503)
Concertgebouw Orchestra/George Szell (K482)
rec. June 1978, Vienna (No.25) and December 1959, Amsterdam (No.22)
MUSIC & ARTS CD-1254 [65:59]

In his thoughtful, affectionate and perceptive contribution to the booklet notes, pianist Paul Badura-Skoda reflects on his association with both conductors who accompany him in the Mozart performances in this disc.

His New York debut in 1952 was given with George Szell, the older man clearly admiring Badura-Skoda’s hardworking finger clarity, because he was seek him out later for performances in Cleveland. Two years later, at the end of December 1959, Szell again sought him out to reprise their Cleveland performance of Mozart’s E flat concerto K.482, but this time in Amsterdam. The sound is somewhat constricted, but its boxiness does little to impede appreciation of the collaboration. The bright, communicative rapport is evident from the first. Badura-Skoda plays with imaginative control, and rounded tone. His cadenzas are marvellously dispatched – it seems silly to concentrate on this one facet of his art but it recurs in the companion concerto, so is worth noting. There’s great pathos and dignity in the slow movement, although in his notes Badura-Skoda cites an earlier performance he gave with Furtwängler as the greatest he gave in respect of accompaniment in this movement – it’s on Music & Arts CD-1097.Without question, though, the finale with Szell is the more dapper, with plenty of witty exchanges orchestrally.

If the live performance with Szell was a meeting based on mutual admiration generated by prior encounters, that with Horst Stein was a more genial affair timed to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Bösendorfer firm. At the performance Badura-Skoda received the ‘Bösendorfer Ring’, bestowed for life for embodying the best Viennese traditions, an object previously worn only by Wilhelm Backhaus. Badura-Skoda and Stein performed the Concerto in C, K503 and did so with enviable rapport and warmth. The 1978 recording quality is necessarily a vast improvement on the Amsterdam one, though it’s rather chilly and doesn’t necessarily flatter the strings of the Vienna Philharmonic, who play with accustomed generosity, and plushness. The pianist plays with style and lovely tone, warm and rounded, but full of precision and clarity. For his first movement cadenza, Badura-Skoda picks up on the proto-Marseillaise motif and leads with it, working it over splendidly. Singing legato informs the slow movement, supportive winds assisting — a study in refinement. Crispness meanwhile is the watchword of the finale, Stein ensuring that the double basses articulate clearly and that the final cadences receive proper grandeur.

These contrasting performances – nearly twenty years apart, with different conductors and orchestras – demonstrate Badura-Skoda’s assured and unflagging Mozartian affiliations. Admirers need not hesitate for a moment.

Jonathan Woolf

Contrasting performances. Admirers need not hesitate for a moment.