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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor K.466 [30:46]
Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor K.491 [32:13]
Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major K.488 [27:24]
Piano Concerto No. 27 in B flat major K.595 [30:44]
Walter Klien (piano)
NHK Symphony Orchestra/Horst Stein, Hiroshi Wakasugi (K.595)
rec. live, Tokyo Bunkakaikan Hall, 9 February 1980 (K.466), NHK Hall, Tokyo, 2 March 1983 (K.491), 9 December 1977 (K.488), 1December 1989 (K.595)
KING INTERNATIONAL KKC 2047/8 [63:11 + 58:20]

It is laudable that King International have released these Mozart piano concerto performances, given by Walter Klien on his visits to Japan. The orchestra is the very fine NHK Symphony, the Japanese orchestra based in Tokyo. The conductors featured are Horst Stein and Hiroshi Wakasugi, the latter a name new to me.
 
Walter Klien (1928-1991) was born in Graz, Austria, which was incidentally also the birthplace of Alfred Brendel, a pianist Klien recorded some duet repertoire with. His piano teachers included Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli. He studied composition with Paul Hindemith. Highly regarded as an interpreter of Mozart and Schubert, Klien produced some very fine piano sonata recordings of music by these two composers. Another highlight of his recording career is his collaboration with Arthur Grumiaux in the Mozart violin sonatas. This is one of the sonatas’ most inspired traversals. Clear textures and crystalline clarity always distinguish his playing. It is regrettable that the bulk of his recordings were for Vox, a company that did not showcase an important artist of Klien’s calibre in the most flattering light.
 
The four concerto performances featured here were recorded between 1977 and 1989. With the exception of K491, which I will come to later, these additions to the Klien discography are vital readings and worth preserving. Klien offers the listener compelling performances, with a refined and focused approach. He is never self-conscious in any way, and does not impose his personality. There is no exaggeration, no ostentation and his playing is free of mannerism. These are noble readings, displaying an innate sense of style and musicianship. I like the way he tastefully embellishes the melody in the recapitulation of the Adagio of K.488.
 
Now to the question of K491. Klien was obviously having an off day when this was taped. The performance is earthbound and prosaic. An example is the descending phrase at 2:57 in the first movement and the melodic line at 5:48 in the slow movement, which are heavy-handed and lack poetry, grace and charm. There seems to be no joy or love here. Stein directs the orchestral players as though on automatic pilot. Maybe this factor did not inspire Klien to greater heights. This is not a performance I would want to return to.
 
Although I am not enamoured of this K491 I would not hesitate in relation to the other three. These are inspired readings by a pianist whose Mozart stands there with the best. The sound throughout is excellent. Notes are in Japanese, but a short profile of the NHK Symphony Orchestra is provided in English.
 
Stephen Greenbank 

Masterwork Index: Mozart piano concertos