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Alwyn, Grace Williams, Arnold, Wordsworth. Searle, Joubert


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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Complete Piano Concertos (except nos. 7 and 10)
see end of review for disc contents
English Chamber Orchestra/Daniel Barenboim (piano and direction)
rec. Abbey Road Studios, London, 1967-1974. ADD. Stereo
WARNER CLASSICS 9846162 [10 CDs: 661:12]

A predominantly 1960s into early 1970s cycle, this set has been around long enough to have been issued several times over on LP and CD. Its provenance as a pillar of the EMI catalogue is analogue and predates HIP. Even so this is small band Mozart - the orchestra is the elite chamber band of its time and Barenboim offers a different hostage to fortune by directing from the piano. No Klemperer this time as there was for his coeval Beethoven concerto cycle (review review). The ECO may be a chamber orchestra but the heard effect is pretty full-on with no suggestion of one to a part. As an illustration listen to the muscular emphasis of the instrumental sound at the start of No. 25 on CD 3.
 
The main competition at the time was Geza Anda with the Salzburg Mozarteum on Deutsche Grammophon. Anda, despite his Bartók credentials, always a seemed a cooler head than Barenboim and that tells in Barenboim's favour … or at least it does for me.
 
Other complete sets have offered extras including the concertos for two and three piano as well as the Concert Rondos. Barenboim presents us with only Concert Rondo No. 1. Given the mainstream virtues of the present set this is not a deal-breaker.
 
The piano is a full-voiced concert grand so no concessions there to HIP as I mentioned earlier. If you need to go in that direction then there are cycles from Bilson, Tan and Han. That said Barenboim is a gifted stylist and even in a late work such as No. 26 his piano has delicacy and élan without doing violence to Mozart's world view. He also fittingly opens the door to wider and darker emotional horizons for No. 24 - a favourite of mine.
 
Barenboim provides several of the cadenzas; otherwise using Mozart's own with the occasional excursion to Edwin Fischer, Beethoven and even Wanda Landowska.
 
While you will also want to explore the cycles by Uchida (Philips-Universal), Brendel (Decca-Universal), Perahia (CBS-Sony) and Ashkenazy (Decca Universal) this is an excellent traversal. Of late I have also been pleased with the cycle by Karl Engel (Warner) and by individual concertos recordings by Ivan Klansky (a DVD set of a selection of the concertos from various soloists also including Previn and the older Barenboim) and by Annie Fischer. Klansky in particular impressed me. I would like to hear more by him.
 
The EMI origins of this present Barenboim cycle have been driven out by Warner having absorbed the Parlophone group. Only the 50999 catalogue number prefix remains as a shred of these recordings’ EMI origins. The short liner-notes are now by Karl Schumann and are presented with German and French translations.
 
CD1 with its first four concertos sounds a shade dull but otherwise the effect across the remaining discs is brightly lit yet without glare.
 
Piano concertos No. 7 k242 and No. 10 k365 have been omitted. This is presumably because they are for two or three pianos in the case of K242 although No. 7 began life as a piece for solo piano and orchestra only being rearranged for multiple pianos in 1780.
 
These are emotionally vivid readings and recordings. They are of exalted quality despite dating from getting on for half a century ago. Still sounding very presentable and at bargain price this set will give a lifetime of pleasing and moving listening at little outlay.
 
Rob Barnett

Masterwork Index: Mozart piano concertos

Disc contents
CD 1: 1-4 [57:46]
CD 2: 5, 6, 8 [68:53]
CD 3: 9, 25, concert rondo 1 k382 [74:18]
CD 4 11-13 [75:21]
CD 5: 14-16 [73:47]
CD 6: 17, 26, 25 [63:19]
CD 7: 18, 19 [58:05]
CD 8: 20, 24 [64:38]
CD 9: 21, 27 [63:14]
CD 10: 22, 23 [61:51]