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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto no.18 in B flat, K.456 (1784) [30:43]
Piano Concerto no.19, in F, K.459 (1784) [27:35]
Cristofori/Arthur Schoonderwoerd (fortepiano)
rec. Saline Royale d'Arc-et-Senans, France, 14-17 May 2012. DDD
ACCENT ACC 24278 [58:18]
Piano Concerto no.20 in D minor, K.466 (1785) [30:15]
Piano Concerto no.21 in C, K.467 (1785) [27:19]
Cristofori/Arthur Schoonderwoerd (fortepiano)
rec. Eglise Notre-Dame, Besançon, France, 6-8 June 2011. DDD
ACCENT ACC 24265 [57:34]

These two CDs, released a year apart, are the first in a projected complete cycle of Mozart's piano concertos on historical instruments, and they are revelatory. Dutch period specialist Arthur Schoonderwoerd plays a fabulously responsive reproduction 1782 Anton Walter 5-octave fortepiano - one that Mozart is known to have owned - whilst directing a very trim ensemble consisting of pairs of violins, violas, oboes, horns, trumpets and bassoons, plus one flute, timpanist and cello and double bass. By comparison, Maria João Pires's very ordinary recording for Deutsche Grammophon (4790075) of K.466 and K.595 with the so-called Orchestra Mozart under Claudio Abbado comprised no fewer than 24 violins, 10 violas, 4 flutes, oboes, bassoons, five horns and 24 other musicians!
According to the blurb, the musicians of Cristofori under Schoonderwoerd have set themselves "the goal of liberating Mozart's works from the sound concepts of the 19th and 20th centuries", and hearing these chamber-like textures is in some respects like doing so for the first time. Which is not to say these are anaemic accounts by any stretch: Schoonderwoerd somehow conjures up quite a hefty orchestral sound from reduced resources - and not just courtesy of the timpani. If this is what audiences actually experienced when they went to a Mozart concert in the 1780s, even those at the back would have been impressed. Mozart of course was by this time a master orchestrator, and the quieter sound of the fortepiano was carefully balanced against the ensemble, colouring in during tutti passages whilst the many keyboard cadenzas are accompanied by appropriately reduced forces.
In any case, the stunning design of these four concertos can be appreciated as never before. True, those with more carnivorous tastes will not feel sated, but for some of those who appreciate what Schoonderwoerd is trying to do for Mozart, there may be no going back - this is what Mozart's piano concertos should always sound like. What a pleasure it is, for example, to hear the slow movement of the C major concerto freed from the clichés of 20th-century pianism, or the first movement of the D minor work communicate musical Sturm und Drang rather than the confected melodrama of many a modern performance. Intriguing too to hear the reconstructed timpani and (F!) trumpet parts of the F major concerto. Schola Cantorum Basiliensis's Philip Tarr gives a convincing justification for this, their first and ostensibly controversial use.
Sound quality is also top quality. Schoonderwoerd's booklet notes, under the general theme of 'Mozart revisited', are an informative beacon of intelligent clarity. In sum, this is a double coup de maître for him, Cristofori and Accent - one of the finest recordings of 2012 and 2013. Mission accomplished: Mozart has been liberated. Long live Mozart!
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Masterwork Index: Mozart piano concertos 18 & 19 ~~ 20 ~~ 21