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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano concerto No. 18 in B major, KV 456 (1784) [29.23]
Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, KV 488 (1786) [26.06]
Martha Argerich (piano) (18)
Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Eugen Jochum
Daniel Barenboim (piano) (23)
Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Rafael Kubelik
rec. live, 1970, Herkulessaal, Munich; 1973, Kaisersaal, Würzburg
Schatten und Licht - An audio biography written by Jörg Handstein (in German with music excerpts)
BR KLASSIK 900906 [4 CDs: 293:38]

One wonders how many more treasures have been saved in the archives of Bayerischer Rundfunk (Bavarian Broadcasting) that could be re-issued on BR Klassik. One thing is for certain: those radio broadcasters certainly knew how to record the excellent Bavarian orchestras.

This four disc set is clearly designed for the German-speaking market consisting mainly of a 214 minute long audio biography of Mozart. This, entitled Schatten und Licht (Shadow of Light), was written by Jörg Handstein and here is narrated by Udo Wachtveitl and a handful of other actors. All the text is spoken in German with music excerpts.

I was delighted to discover that the fourth disc also contained two of the finest live performances of Mozart piano concertos I am ever likely to hear. They are played by Argentinean contemporaries: the then twenty-nine year old Martha Argerich in Munich and Daniel Barenboim then thirty years old in Würzburg both with the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks.

The Mozart concertos have not formed a major part of Argerich’s repertoire. She appears to prefer the concertos by Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninov, Ravel and Prokofiev to best display her phenomenal talent; her strength and virtuosity. Composed in 1784 it is thought Mozart intended the work for Maria Theresia von Paradis, a blind pianist who toured European capitals. With exhilarating freshness and vitality in the opening Allegro Vivace Argerich demonstrates her lightness of touch and crisp articulation. It is easy to imagine her fingers moving effortlessly across the keys. A highlight is the ravishing Andante, a theme and variations played with lucidity. There's also a real breadth of expression in Argerich’s engaging interplay with the orchestra. The Finale: Allegro Vivace is performed with an unbridled joy that feels fresh and immediate. Conducted by Eugen Jochum so vastly experienced in this repertoire it is hard to find fault with the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks - a responsive and warm-hearted partner.

Compared to Argerich, Barenboim has recorded the Mozart piano concertos extensively, including the complete set with the Berliner Philharmoniker where he is solo pianist and directs from the keyboard on Warner Classics. Early in his career as a sixteen-year-old Barenboim played under the baton of Czech-born Rafael Kubelik forming a relationship that lasted for nearly forty years until Kubelik’s death. It is not difficult to imagine the depth of this artistic collaboration and their mutual love of Mozart. Around 1786 when the Piano Concerto No. 23 was composed was a highly productive period in Mozart’s life coming around the same time as the première of The Marriage of Figaro. Considered one of the most lyrical of piano concertos Barenboim is on his finest form playing assiduously and with vernal freshness and immediacy. The opening Allegro has such bloom and vitality, and the Adagio evinces a rapt concentration that effortlessly captivates the listener. I couldn’t imagine more joy and vivacity than can be found in the closing Allegro assai with its buoyant character. First class support comes from the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks under Kubelik who clearly knows this music intimately.

The radio engineers have provided both Argerich (1970) and Barenboim (1973) with vividly clear sound and an agreeable balance between piano and orchestra. There is no over-intrusive audience noise and the applause has been taken out at the conclusion of the Barenboim.

These are stunning live performances and I’d be very happy if these were the only recordings I had of each work. In truth this set will really only appeal to German speakers wanting to learn about Mozart’s life or if money is no object.

I would strongly advise also obtaining the previously released recordings of these two concertos in almost identical live performances from Argerich and Barenboim. These are on separate BR Klassik releases with the advantage of excellent live couplings too. There is Argerich’s Mozart Piano Concerto No. 18, KV 456 at the Kaisersaal, Würzburg in 1973 available on BR 900701 (c/w Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 1) and Barenboim’s Mozart Piano Concerto No. 23, KV 488 at the Herkulessaal, Munich in 1970 on BR 900709 (c/w Mozart Piano Concerto No. 22, KV 482).

Michael Cookson