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Jonathan Woolf
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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No.20 in D minor, K466 (1785) [32:04]
Piano Concerto No.24 in C minor, K491 (1786) [29:19]
Denis Matthews (piano), Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera / Hans Swarowsky
rec. June 1958, Musikverein, Grosser Saal, Vienna

Though players such as Hess, Solomon and Curzon all made significant contributions to the recordings of Mozart Concertos, the British scene of the time was greatly indebted to Denis Matthews. Whilst he lacked their international cachet, in turn he lacked for little in stylistic affiliation as his exploration of the works reveals. Exploration is, perhaps, too much indicative of forward planning by the record companies for which he recorded; things were rather more ad hoc, but there was clearly intent to avoid duplication of works he had already recorded and to extend coverage of the works.

Thus, with Rudolf Schwarz he recorded K414, K449, K488 and K595. With Harry Blech and his London Mozart Players, Matthews added K453 and K503. And in Vienna in June 1958 he teamed up with Hans Swarowsky for two further pieces, Concertos 20, K466 and 24, K491. This brace saw service on Vanguard but subsequently appeared on a number of other labels such as Wing and Top Rank. Matthews is quoted in an online reminiscence as having told a friend that he recorded this entire disc in about three hours. Each concerto took a half-hour run-through, then half-hour recording, a half-hour listen-through followed by a patching session. It helped to have the Orchestra of the State Opera House to hand, given its alternative incarnation as the Vienna Philharmonic.

That’s especially evident in the strong bass line and the forward and characterful winds. The exchanges between orchestra and soloist in K466 manage to suggest chamber intimacy – Matthews was a marvelous chamber player – whilst remaining properly in scale. His playing in the slow movement is full of refined lyricism, his phrasing eloquent and unmannered, though he is dynamic in the movement’s central agitated panel. The finale is full of character and incident, the music slipping happily into operatic realms. Matthews digs in here and Swarowsky ensures unflagging support. In the companion concerto the orchestral introduction is strongly argued but flexible, essentially forward moving. In the slow movement Matthews seems to imply a kind of Barcarolle feel whilst Swarowsky responds with a Larghetto. The sweeping power and military echoes in the finale find all concerned on fine, authoritative form. They may have had a minimum of rehearsal, but it doesn’t sound like it.

The piano is well-balanced throughout and not too spot-lit. The cadenzas in the C minor are Matthews' own whilst the cadenzas in the D minor are by Beethoven.

The fine restorations carry no notes but as usual there are printed internet links.

Jonathan Woolf

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