Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791) Piano
Concerto No.20, K466 [30:29] Piano
Concerto No.21, K467 [27:21]
World premiere recordings of versions with orchestra parts transcribed
for string quartet and double bass by Ignaz LACHNER (1807–1895).
Cadenzas by Beethoven (K466/i) and Alon Goldstein (K466/iii, K467/i
Alon Goldstein (piano)
Fine Arts Quartet [Ralph Evans, Efim Bolco (violins), Juan Miguel Hernandez
(viola), Robert Cohen (cello)] with Rachel Calin (double bass)
rec. The American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, 24-26 June
2014. DDD NAXOS 8.573398 [57:56]
I didn’t think I had encountered Alon Goldstein before,
but he’s the pianist in the Tempest Trio’s recording of Dvořák Piano
Trios Nos. 3 and 4 (Naxos 8.573279) which Brian Reinhart thought ‘good
but not great’ – review.
I was somewhat more positive in liking these vigorous and idiomatic
performances – Download
The Fine Arts Quartet is, of course, well known. Though their personnel
have changed over the years like the parts of an artefact being changed
little by little so that none of the original remains, their more recent
incarnations have maintained their high standard as, for example, on
their Naxos recording of Schumann’s String Quartets which earned the
Bargain of the Month award (8.570151 – review).
The short notes on the rear insert of the CD claim that ‘these chamber
versions of two of Mozart’s greatest and most popular concertos sound
almost as natural as if Mozart had transcribed them himself’. Mozart
did, indeed, make chamber-scale versions of some of his own earlier
piano concertos and Nos. 11-14 are sometimes performed and recorded
in that form, as by Susan Gomes with the Gaudier Ensemble (budget-price
Hyperion Helios CDH55333 – Download
News 2013/1). Please see also my review
of recordings of these arrangements by Gottlieb Wallisch (Linn CKD424)
and Anne-Marie McDermott (Bridge 9403), with link to Dominy Clements’s
review of the Linn. Because Mozart conceived these works in dual format,
the chamber versions make a most acceptable alternative, not significantly
different from performances with a small period-instrument orchestra
such as that of Nos. 11, 13 and 14 by Jos van Immerseel (fortepiano)
and his orchestra, Musica Eterna. (Channel Classics CCS0990).
When it comes to these later concertos, however, I must admit that performances
on a larger scale predominate in my unconscious expectations:
Stephen Kovacevich with the LSO and Colin Davis in Nos. 20 and
23 (Philips 4224662) and Nos. 21 and 25 (4765316: Bargain of the Month
– both download only or on special order from prestoclassical.co.uk.
Clifford Curzon with ECO and Benjamin Britten in Nos. 20 and
27 and with LSO/István Kertész in Nos. 23, 24 and 27 (Decca Legends
4684912, 2 medium-price CDs)
Géza Anda with the Camerata Academica of the Salzburg Mozarteum
in Nos. 20 and 21 (DG Eloquence 4632342, lower mid-price) or Nos. 6,
17 and 21 (DG Originals 4474362). This is the recording of No.21 which
was used for the film Elvira Madigan, a meaningless title which
has become attached to the concerto: to Naxos’s credit, they don’t use
Alfred Brendel with ASMF/Neville Marriner in Nos. 19-21, 23 and
24, and Rondos K382 and K386 (2-for-1 Decca Duo 4422692 – Download
Howard Shelley with London Mozart Players in Nos. 20 and 23 (Chandos
CHAN8992 – Download
News 2013/1) and in Nos. 21 and 22 (CHAN9404).
You’ll find more versions of No. 20 in MWI
Recommends – we haven’t got round to No.21 yet.
That’s pretty formidable competition and it’s only scratching the surface
of what’s on offer – I haven’t even listed Dame Mitsuko Uchida’s recordings
with Jeffrey Tate or her newer Decca version of Nos. 9 and 21 where
she directs from the keyboard, or Martha Argerich at the Lucerne Festival
in 20 and 25 (DG: Recording of the Month).
You may think that I’m building up to dismissing the new recording.
I expected to do just that, but I found myself liking it very much:
without wanting to play any of the versions listed above for comparison,
I found Alon Goldstein’s performances and those of his supporting team
satisfying in their own right. I did sneak in a listen to Géza Anda’s
famous recording of No.21 afterwards and was surprised to find myself
thinking it a little heavy-handed by comparison with the Naxos team.
It’s not so much a matter of tempi – though Goldstein is slightly faster
in all three movements, there’s just seconds difference – and Anda’s
touch is light and nimble enough but the accompaniment now sounds a
little too large-scale. These were revelatory performances in the 1960s
– I remember being very impressed with Anda’s recording of No.23 when
I heard it played as a new release on the radio – but even modern-instrument
orchestras can and do offer lighter support now.
Memories of the film are hard to shake when hearing the slow movement
of Anda’s No.21 – he makes the music sound more momentous than Goldstein
and his team if that’s what you want. We’ve all been rather brainwashed
by having this performance offered so frequently – there’s even a DG
EP with ‘Elvira Madigan’ emblazoned across the cover – but the Naxos
recording sounds fresher.
I also listened to Howard Shelley (CHAN9404, rec.1994) with the London
Mozart Players in this movement and though he’s slightly slower than
either Anda or Goldstein, he too makes the music sound fresh and unlaboured.
I downloaded the Shelley in lossless sound from theclassicalshop.net,
where it’s also available in mp3 – both versions come with the pdf booklet.
Sample/stream from Qobuz
Music Library if you want to do the comparison yourself.
Shelley’s older recording of Nos. 21 and 24 with the City of London
Sinfonia (Alto ALC1167) is also well worth considering by those in search
of a bargain: sample or stream from classicsonlinehd.com, but I can’t
recommend purchasing the download there for Ł7.99 when the CD can be
found for around Ł5.50, perhaps in addition to the new Naxos CD. Both
Shelley recordings and the new Naxos seem to make the music float a
little more than Anda’s classic account of that slow movement.
Anda’s solo playing is lighter than his accompaniment and Shelley and
Goldstein also offer an attractively light touch – perhaps that’s why
Goldstein’s Mozart is more to the point than his Dvorák. The Fine Arts
Quartet have had two changes of personnel since the Schumann CD mentioned
above – Juan Miguel Hernandez (viola) and Robert Cohen (cello) – but
with no diminution of standards and they have found a fine partner in
Rachel Calin on bass.
At one time I collected almost all of the Naxos recording of Mozart
piano concertos with Jenö Jandó and Concentus Hungaricus – very reliable
performances and good value, but I’ve gradually shipped them off to
various good causes, so I no longer have his CD of Nos. 12, 14 and 21,
or the alternative couplings of 20 and 21 or 21 and 25, to hand for
comparison, but I listened again via classicsonlinehd.com and found
myself liking Jandó’s way with Mozart but preferring the new Naxos CD.
The recording is good and Keith Anderson’s notes are unsurprisingly
informative and readable – as usual, they add to my recommendation,
though presented in a very small font.
I must express one small reservation. 58 minutes is not desperately
short playing time and this is not the only CD to offer just two concertos
– most of the single-CD recordings that I’ve listed do just that, though
the 2-CD sets are more generous – and the Naxos budget price compensates
for the playing time, but there would just have been room for one of
the four concertos which Mozart himself scored for chamber ensemble,
leaving the door open for this team to give us a second CD of the other
three. I hope that they will do that anyway, though I’m not sure which
three I would choose at the expense of the fourth.
On the issue of value for money: Jandó’s recording of Nos. 20 and 21
used to be available coupled with a Haydn concerto (8.553265), but that
appears to be available as a download only now.
Whatever full-scale versions of these concertos you may have, these
small-scale versions, well-performed, recorded and presented, would
make very fine additions to a Mozart library. If you don’t yet have
recordings of either concerto, I’d look elsewhere first, from the recommendations
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