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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, K491 (1786) [30:42]
Symphony No. 39 in E flat major, K543 (1788) [32:12]
Clifford Curzon (piano), Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra/Antal Doráti
rec. April 1969, live, Konserthuset, Stockholm

Jonathan Woolf’s recent review alerted me to this previously unheard recording. He correctly asserted that No. 24 is not badly represented in Curzon’s relatively extensive and extending discography. I have the two commercial recordings made in mono in 1953 with Krips and in stereo in 1967, slightly disappointingly, with Kertész in the magnificent set of his “Complete Recordings” (Decca). Jonathan refers to three off-air performances with respectively Claudio Abbado (on GNP) found on You Tube, Rafael Kubelík (Audite) and Bernard Haitink reviewed by John Quinn (BBC). I have the Haitink coupled with rare Delius The dates of these radio broadcasts range from 1970 to 1979. You can add to that a 1968 recording at St Peter’s Church, Morden on a BBC Music Magazine CD from 1999. There Curzon is joined by the London Mozart Players under their pioneer conductor Harry Blech. This is therefore, the fifth version, a live off-air broadcast taken from Stockholm in 1969. It was made less than a year before the Bavarian Radio broadcast directed by Kubelík which I haven’t heard but just ordered; one can never have enough Curzon playing Mozart. I’m very appreciative of Richard Chlupaty’s generosity in sending me this and three more to review including Brahms Symphony No.1, and Schubert’s Great C Major, the latter never recorded commercially; Neither have been reviewed here, to date. Chlupaty, with Gordon Roberts, is the mastermind behind The Antal Doráti Society.

Doráti is comparatively unknown as a Mozart conductor. I’ve never heard him in any work although as Jonathan points out there are a few recordings in Minneapolis and London, released by the Antal Doráti Society. Also he isn’t particularly associated with the role of accompanist although I do have him with Byron Janis in Rachmaninov’s Second and Third Piano Concertos on Mercury (in Volume 1 - review. The reviewer there concluded that “Doráti … is infinitely sensitive to his soloist’s needs, both in terms of tempo fluctuation and balance; the latter can be tricky in Rachmaninov”. The same skill is also needed in Mozart. Right from the orchestral introduction we know that we can relax and enjoy a fine performance in what is remarkably good sound with an empathetic conductor and very responsive ensemble. The first movement, in its home key of C minor, inhabits a darker place than most of the other Mozart concertos and the chords have a more than menacing air about them. The cadenza, as one would expect from Curzon, avoids being flashy or ostentatious; it’s just right. With Blech the slow movement is sublime in slightly better sound, interspersed with the odd winter cough. In Stockholm, the timing is almost identical and the rendition very similar; the odd cough too - not distracting. To my ears, this is perfect Mozart playing and I’ve always considered him the greatest in the five piano concertos he performed. The Swedish players are very fine and whilst the orchestra may well be larger than we are accustomed to nowadays there is the chamber music “conversation” so vital to these movements. I too loved the flute and bassoon - a feature of this wonderful concerto. The final movement with its variations goes very well indeed and despite a little tape noise, the piano is very well captured. As someone who has enjoyed Curzon’s playing with the Amadeus Quartet on Testament DVDs it’s easy to imagine him playing. Whilst he’s forceful at times, he avoids over-hitting the keys as I feel Alfred Brendel, highly regarded in this work is sometimes prone. Doráti leads the orchestra very successfully and they in turn provide excellent accompaniment. Until I read Jonathan Woolf’s review, I had no idea of this recording; I’m absolutely delighted to discover it. There’s a feeling of harmony here between all participants and the audience show their appreciation at the end. I must point out how much I am grateful for the pauses between each movement as one would experience at a concert but so rarely on disc.

Mozart’s Symphony No. 39 was the first of three symphonies composed in 1788 and regarded by some, including Nikolaus Harnoncourt, as one extended work. I’ve loved it since hearing Beecham and then Davis, whose 1961 recording, now on Eloquence, I reviewed in March 2020. Taking 12:44 against Sir Colin’s youthful 11:27 Doráti makes a steady and forceful yet flexible impression as that magnificent first movement develops organically. Perhaps some of the humour that is usually present in Mozart is absent but the sensitivity of the second subject is very attractive and despite a little tape noise the orchestra is very present. It was sometimes said that Davis played Mozart like Beethoven; does Doráti play Mozart like Haydn? The wistful Andante is sprightly. It brings to mind that old recording by Sir Thomas which is in the totally indispensable “Classical Tradition”. The latter on EMI was reviewed here and contains Mozart and Haydn symphonies and “The Seasons”. There are some noises like a chair falling over during this movement but really, they don’t detract from a beautiful rendition. If I heard this unsighted, I would assume it was Beecham and I can say no higher than that. As a child, the Menuetto was a great favourite of mine and I’ve recently found an adapted Palm Court performance by Albert Sandler from 1939 that I play on a local radio show. Again, Doráti is steadier than Davis and takes 4:30” against 3:45 but it still dances. The clarinet and horn weave wonderfully together in the Andante and there’s none of the changes of tempo that eventually exasperated me with Harnoncourt. When I was learning the symphony from my grandfather, he said that he thought Mozart wasn’t really bothering in the final “Allegro” but I’ve never felt that and always enjoyed it. The final movement of its successor by two, the “Jupiter”, has the greatest finale full of ideas that Mozart felt he’d never develop. There’s no feeling of “let’s get this over” from Doráti and the orchestra give their best. As Jonathan Woolf mentions there is a slight “judder” at the conclusion and, this time, no applause. Is this connected?

I’m absolutely delighted to have been given the opportunity to hear these two recordings from what must have been a marvellous night in Stockholm. Congratulations to Richard Chlupaty at the Antal Doráti Centenary Society and I very much look forward to hearing more of their releases.

David R Dunsmore

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf

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