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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Concerto for Two Pianos in E flat major, K365 (1779) [23.20]
Concerto for Three Pianos in F major, K242 “Lodron Concerto” (1776) (arranged for two pianos by WAM) [20.34]
Fantasia in F minor, K608 [10:03] (for organ; arranged for two pianos by Ferruccio Busoni)
Andante and variations for four hands in G major, K501 [7:51]
Murray Perahia, Radu Lupu (pianos)
English Chamber Orchestra
rec. 1988, Snape Maltings Concert Hall, Snape, England (K242/365); 1990, Abbey Road Studio 1, London (K501/608)
SONY CLASSICAL SK44915 [62:08]

Although this recording has long been a favourite among collectors, it does not appear to have been previously reviewed here on MWI. It received a favourable mention in the recent BBC Radio 3 “Record Review”, although the prime recommendation was inevitably a period recording on fortepianos backed by an “original instrument” band. There is nothing wrong with that if you like that approach, especially as it is performed with sensitivity and obvious enjoyment, but those of us who tend to resist the HIP hegemony will happily retreat to this splendid performance on regular pianofortes.

Lupu and Perahia had previously made a wonderful live recording at Snape of Mozart’s Sonata in D major for two pianos K448 and are here again paired for studio recordings of more music for four hands, this time featuring the two concertos and some interesting fillers. There is no shortage of classic accounts of those two concertos for two pianos – K242 was originally for three but re-arranged for two by the composer five years after its composition – but this one exudes a notable joy and vitality, eschewing anything “china doll” in its execution; the first movement of K365 is brimful of brio whereas the Andante is ruminative, elegant and stately, the finale spritely and brilliant; the cascading roulades played by both towards the end of that concluding movement are extraordinary. I do not know which pianist is playing what at any given point but their articulation is strong and purposeful, their tone exceptionally clear and bell-like, and each has a lovely trill. Speeds are on the swift side which simply adds to the verve of the delivery and most Mozartians will welcome the inclusion of clarinets, trumpets and timpani, as per Mozart’s later, expanded orchestration.

I do not find the “Lodron Concerto” as memorable; it is not a masterpiece on the same level as K365, being somewhat more conventional, formal and formulaic, but Mozart evidently rated it among his compositions and it is given the best possible advocacy here by a “dream team”.

The English Chamber Orchestra provides animated, well-sprung accompaniment without being too bland or backward.

The Fantasia in F minor, originally written for organ, sounds oddly un-Mozartean to my untrained ear and much more like an homage to Bach; apparently critic Arthur Einstein agreed with me. Mozart did something similar in his Six Preludes and Fugues for string trio; the arrangement of the Fantasia by Busoni for two pianos is here given a grand, even profound, performance, enough to sound monumental despite its relative brevity. The fleeting Andante and variations provides a charming and effervescent conclusion to this compilation. If you already have the Gilels or Serkin team, Haebler-Hofmann or Haskill-Anda in K365, you need not feel under any compulsion to acquire this recording, but if you seek a wholly recommendable version of that work, here it is.

Ralph Moore