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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 12 in A major, K. 414 (1783) [22:44]
Piano Concerto No. 13 in C major, K. 415 (1783) [25:21]
Piano Concerto No. 14 in E-flat major, K. 449 (1784) [21:06]
Gottlieb Wallisch (piano)
Piatti Quartet
rec. 15-16 May 2012, Potton Hall, Suffolk, UK.
LINN RECORDS CKD 424 [69:13]

We’ve come across Hummel’s arrangements of Mozart’s music for chamber forces, but with an eye to maximizing his opportunities for performance, Mozart himself published these three concertos “either with a large orchestra or a  Quattro”. This composer-approved performance option is therefore entirely legitimate. Mozart’s own comments on these pieces in a letter to his father demonstrate the commercial intent behind their contents, “a happy medium between being too easy and too difficult… very brilliant, pleasant to the ear, without being vapid.”
Gottlieb Wallisch’s elegant piano playing and the subtle and refined touch given to the accompaniment by the Piatti Quartet certainly make a convincing case for these versions, and I suspect it’s only really because we’re so used to hearing them in the context of an orchestra that we might have any cause to rebel against them. No, these recordings aren’t a substitute to orchestral versions, and you will never recreate the warmth and richness of a full body of strings from which the piano can emerge or over which it can float. What you do have here is a kind of honest clarity and directness of expression which has its own strengths.
The recording is lively and transparent, with the Potton Hall acoustic adding a restrained sense of space, preventing dryness but by no means intruding on a close and intimate balance both between the players and us as the audience. The balance between sprightly wit and the serene beauty of Mozart’s slow movements is also nicely held within each concerto, and contrasts such as the open texture of the opening of K 415 and the orchestral ‘tutti’ which answers it come across as a realistic enough illusion. The sublime Andante central movement also has plenty of atmosphere. Hearing such music in this context makes one realise once again the incredible economy of means with which Mozart was able to create such musical magic, and these ‘pocket’ versions of such delightful works are worth having as an education in the ‘less is more’ school if nothing else.
Is there any competition around for these works in this setting? Not a huge amount, though you might have come across a Naxos disc, 8.557881, performed by Robert Blocker and the Biava Quartet, which has exactly the same programme. The opening movement in K 414 is a bit uninvolving by comparison with the generally more brisk Wallisch/Piatti combination, but the musicianship on this Naxos disc is pretty high in general. With an ounce or two less accuracy in intonation with the unison string passages and less character from the soloist I don’t however prefer it to the Linn recording.
With fine SACD sound and very good stereo this is just one more reason to invest in familiar but much loved works just one more time, or at least, until the next must-have orchestral cycle takes hold. Your mind may turn its nose up at the thought of these concertos with a mere string quartet as backing, but once you get your hands on it and allow these fine performances start to infuse your soul, they will more than likely take over and convince your brain to stop griping and enjoy.
Dominy Clements 

Masterwork Index: Mozart piano concertos