Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No 25 in C major, K 503 [31:41]
Piano Concerto No 22 in E-flat major, K 482* [34:16]
Paul Badura-Skoda (piano)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Horst Stein
*Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam/George Szell
rec. 15 June 1978, Goldenen Saal der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Wien; *19-20 December 1959, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam. ADD
MUSIC & ARTS CD-1254 [65:59]
The very good booklet that accompanies this CD includes a note by Paul Badura-Skoda in which he tells of his fruitful working relationships with the conductors involved in these performances. The 1978 Vienna performance was given on a special occasion for the concert that marked the 150th anniversary of the celebrated firm of piano makers, Bösendorfer. At the end of the evening Badura-Skoda was presented with the ‘Bösendorfer-ring’ which is, he says “a distinction bestowed on a pianist for a lifetime, for best embodying the Viennese musical aim of playing ‘music that speaks to the heart’.” At that time the only previous recipient of this distinction had been Wilhelm Backhaus. On the evidence of these two performances Badura-Skoda was a worthy recipient of this honour.
In a sense, little need be said about these performances. In both concertos Badura-Skoda plays with style, wit and elegance and when the mien of the music becomes more serious, as it does in both slow movements, he rises to the occasion. In both cases he plays his own cadenzas and these are tasteful, relevant and in proportion to the movements in question. The pianist admits, in discussing the performance of K 482, that later in his career his cadenzas had greater maturity and were closer to Mozart’s style. However, I doubt anyone listening to this 1959 cadenza will feel seriously disappointed.
K503 was chosen jointly by Badura-Skoda and Bösendorfer as a suitably celebratory piece for the anniversary programme. I was interested to read the pianist’s comment that he regards the work as “Mozart’s ‘Emperor Concerto’”. Horst Stein invests the opening to the first movement with nobility, the music spacious but possessing energy also. Badura-Skoda plays with grace and his finger work is nimble. The introduction to the second movement is delightfully played by the VPO and the pianism is beautifully poised. In the booklet, annotator Richard Freed refers to a “remarkable balance between animation and subtlety” in Mozart’s finale. I think that balance is well struck in this performance which carries a celebratory air, appropriate to the occasion. Badura-Skoda and Stein combine to give an entertaining reading of this movement.
The earlier performance of K482 finds Badura-Skoda collaborating with George Szell, a conductor for whom he had great regard. Both musicians bring out a lot of fine detail in their performance and right from the start of the first movement Szell ensures that the music is given just the right amount of space. Twice in his liner notes Badura-Skoda uses the word “tragic” in relation to the second movement. Szell’s introduction is grave and eloquent, the Concertgebouw strings excelling, and the pianist appears to be at one with his conductor. The rondo trips along delightfully at first but then Mozart repeats his innovation from the finale of his earlier E-flat concerto, K 271, by introducing a slower central section. Badura-Skoda and Szell make this episode (4:22 – 7:03) a gracious interlude before the high spirits of the Rondo resume.
The sound quality is better, unsurprisingly, in K 503 for that
recording is only just over thirty years old. The sound in the
performance of K 482 is less clear and less transparent but
it’s still perfectly acceptable. The booklet, mainly written
by Badura-Skoda himself, is excellent.
These two performances are very fine. There are one or two minor imperfections of finger work that Badura-Skoda would have ironed out under studio conditions but, frankly, any slips are very minor indeed and of little consequence when set beside the qualities of the performances. There’s an air of spontaneity about the proceedings though both concerto performances are obviously the product of scrupulous preparation. I enjoyed this disc greatly and the music-making reminds one of how life-enhancing Mozart’s music can be when it’s done well.
See also review by Jonathan Woolf