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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791) Concerto No. 10 in E Flat Major For Two Pianos And Orchestra, KV 365 [24:53]*
Piano Concerto No. 15 in B Flat Major, KV 450 [26:35] Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major, KV 467 [28:06] Piano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, KV 453 [30:11] Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, KV 503 [30:04] Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Fantasia in C Minor For Piano, Chorus And Orchestra, Op. 80 [19:21]
Andor Foldes (piano)
Carl Seemann (piano 1)*
RIAS Kammerchor; Berliner Mottenchor (Op.80)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Fritz Lehmann (KV 365/453; Op. 80); Leopold Ludwig (KV 450/503); Paul Schmitz (KV 467)
rec. 1954-1963, Jesus_Christus-Kirke, Berlin
Stereo (KV 450/503); all others mono ELOQUENCE 4828533 [79:52 + 79:54]
He began life as Andor Földes, born in Budapest, Hungary in 1913, but later took American citizenship and adapted his surname to Foldes. His first steps at the piano were under the tutelage of his mother, but in 1922 he enrolled at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music where he studied with Ernő Dohnányi and Béla Bartók. In 1940 he made his American debut in a radio recital, followed a year later by a recital debut at New York Town Hall. In 1947 he performed Bartók’s Second Piano Concerto under Leon Barzin at Carnegie Hall and followed this up, a year later, with a recording of the work for Deutsche Grammophon, which garnered much critical acclaim, including the Grand Prix du Disque. He met his wife, a Hungarian journalist, in New York and together they adopted U.S. citizenship. The lure of more concert engagements was a deciding factor in the couple moving to Switzerland in 1961. Foldes remained there for the rest of his life. He tragically died at his home in Herrliberg, Switzerland, on February 9, 1992, after falling down a flight of stairs.
Mozart and Beethoven played a significant role in the pianist’s life. Amazingly, at eight years old, he made his public debut with the Budapest Philharmonic under István Kerner playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto in B flat major, KV 450, followed a year later by a performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, Op.15.
The pianist set down a pleasing selection of Mozart Piano Concertos in the studio; sadly absent, however, are two of my favourites, nos. 18 and 27, both in the key of B flat. What we do have are four of the better-known concertos for solo piano and the Concerto for Two Pianos, with Carl Seemann playing piano 1. On the evidence, Foldes joins a notable band of distinguished Mozart players, including Clara Haskil Walter Klein, Geza Anda, Robert Casadesus and Alfred Brendel. What I take away from these performances is the crystalline clarity with which he invests the passage work, the idiomatic phrasing and the sense of direction in which he guides the listener. He certainly taps into the wealth of riches that grace these masterpieces. In all cases, tempi seem just right, and in the slow movements Foldes’ playing basks in the overflowing lyricism without ever seeming to come across as cloying. These are stylish readings. The piano is more forwardly profiled in the mono recordings, with the orchestra sounding slightly recessed. The balance is more satisfactory in the two stereo recordings of KV 450 and KV 503. My favourites include No. 21 in C major, which is positively life-enhancing in Foldes’ hands. It has all the right ingredients, including rhythmic freedom and refined musicianship, and oozes imaginative insights. However, the ultimate pičce de résistance for me is that other C major Concerto, KV 503. The set is worth the price for this performance alone. It has character, spontaneity, nobility and grandeur; it doesn’t get any better than this. Leopold Ludwig offers wonderful support. In fact, all the conductors featured are sympathetic partners.
Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy was recorded in mono in April 1955. I have to say, from the outset, it’s never been a work I’ve been particularly fond of and it doesn’t rank as one of the composer’s finest in my view. It’s a patchwork of solo piano, orchestra and chorus with a cadenza, several variations and a theme that sounds like the ‘Ode to Joy’ from his Ninth Symphony. Having said that, however, for those who hold it more dearly, this performance stands tall. The piano has been ideally profiled in the mix and the orchestral and choral contributions cannot be faulted. Fritz Lehmann directs a nicely paced account which sounds fresh and uplifting. The choir are well-rehearsed and sing with clarity of diction and flawless ensemble. To all intents and purposes, it’s a classic recording.
Apart from Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos, KV 365, all the other items are making their first appearance on CD. Although the earliest recordings are in mono, all sound vital and bright and have scrubbed up well for these transfers. Those who admire great pianism and Mozart playing of the highest order need look no further. Finally, I must commend the interesting and well-written liner notes by Mark Ainley.