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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 12 KV 414 (1782) [24:12]
Ignaz HOLZBAUER (1711-1783)
Symphony in E-flat major Op. 4, No. 3 [13:30]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 23 KV 488 (1788) [25:23]
Matea Leko (piano)
Kurpfälisches Kammerorchester/Johannes Schlaefli
rec. 3-5 March 2014, Johanniskirche, Mannheim
ARS PRODUKTION ARS38167 [63:01]

This is a follow-up review to that by Jonathan Woolf, in which he ably summed up Croatian soloist Matea Leko’s background. Performing Mozart’s piano concertos with a small orchestra is no longer a big surprise these days, though as with Ronald Brautigam’s fortepiano recordings on BIS, the proportion of small orchestra and small soloist would seem to go that extra mile if authenticity is what you seek. Matea Leko plays a modern instrument but the Kurpfalz Chamber Orchestra doesn’t sound particularly small, so there’s no real problem of the tail wagging the dog.

As a suitably illustrated promotion this does no harm to Matea Leko, though one could wish she had decided for or was given the opportunity to explore some repertoire which hasn’t been raked over a million times before on records. I’m always open for inspiring new performances of familiar music, but these performances don’t challenge the best. If we want to limit ourselves to discs which have both KV 414 and KV 488 together then Fazil Say’s recording on Naïve V4992 has a more attractive acoustic, and while the piano is rather forward in the recorded balance there is more interest, drama and poignancy in the performance. Just comparing that magical piano solo opening to the Adagio of KV 488 and my tear ducts were left unmoved by Leko, where Say’s touch, while not averse to some quirky touches, draws you in and indeed says much more. Leon Fleisher and the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra also tackle these two works on Sony Classical 886444006033, and again there is much more going on throughout both works, Fleisher taking a longer view rather than picking at points of detail in the slow movements, but still delivers more by way of expression. Leko goes for brisker tempi in the slow movements, which can work if the breathing space is substituted for a more electric life-or-death intensity, which I don’t really feel in this case. There isn’t much intrinsically wrong with these performances, but I’m not bowled over and left begging for more by their matter-of-fact feel of routine.

Ignaz Holzbauer is a less familiar name, but his Symphony Op. 4 No. 3 has plenty to commend it, with its virtuoso Mannheim character and programmatic finale, La tempesta del mare. The musicians perform with gusto, the bassoons in particular relishing their rhythmic role. You will find a few symphonies on the CPO label, but there’s not a huge amount of Holzbauer around so this is a very welcome filler – if anything this release’s hidden USP.

There is a minor cut/paste error on the back of the booklet which repeats K 414, leading to a slight frisson when I imagined this might be a presentation of two radically different versions of the same piece. Other than this there are informative booklet notes, and presentation is up to ARS Produktion’s high standard. Super Audio may be an attraction and these are nice recordings, but in the end it will be the performances which will or won’t bring you back for more. Alas, my copy seems likely to remain on the shelf.

Dominy Clements
 
Previous review: Jonathan Woolf