Piano Concertos: Nos. 1–6, 8, 9, 11–27. Rondos: in D; in A
Murray Perahia (pn, cond); English CO
SONY 88691914112 (12 CDs: 650:49)
The piano concerto—like the symphony—formed an integral part of Mozart’s catalog throughout his all-too-brief life. When he died in 1791 Mozart had succeeded in transforming the piano concerto from a form of
with a simple string trio accompaniment to a full-fledged concert hall staple with a large and colorful orchestra. In the first decade of the 20th century, what were believed to be Mozart’s earliest concertos (Nos. 1–4) were proven to be adaptations for piano and orchestra of sonata movements by other composers, including Johann Gottfried Eckard, Hermann Friedrich Raupach, and Leontzi Honauer. Mozart met these gentlemen—who were pioneers in the field of keyboard music—in Paris in 1764. The next three concertos (K 107/1, 2, and 3), which are not numbered and not included here, are arrangements of piano sonatas by Johann Christian Bach (op. 5/2 in D; op. 5/3 in G, and op. 5/4 in E♭), all composed by 1766. Based on handwriting analysis of the autographs they are believed to date from 1771-1772. Concerto No. 5 was his first real effort in the genre, and one that proved enduringly popular at the time. Concertos Nos. 7 and 10 are absent here; No. 7 is for two pianos and No. 10 is for three.
In his mature concertos, Mozart developed an individual approach to the piano concerto; one that attempted to solve the ongoing problem of how thematic material is dealt with by the orchestra and piano, and with the exception of two concertos (Nos. 9 and 12), all of Mozart’s finest examples are found in his later concertos. He attempts to tread a fine line between a symphony with occasional piano solos and a virtuoso piano fantasia accompanied by an orchestra, and Mozart’s solution for the problem varies from concerto to concerto: No two are the same. His handling of the orchestra is nothing short of brilliant and by the time he reached the great Viennese concertos of the 1780s, Mozart had succeeded in liberating the wind, allotting them important solo parts, or passages in which—as an ensemble—they stood out from the rest of the band.
This is the second complete set of Mozart’s piano concertos I have reviewed for
(the other was a period-instrument performance on Channel Classics by Jos van Immerseel and Anima Æterna in
30:3), but the first of my evaluations of this repertoire to appear in our Classical Hall of Fame. Murray Perahia’s set was released about the same time as the Immerseel box and was generally favored over the Channel release. While I will readily admit that Perahia does the music proud, I prefer to view this cycle as an alternative to the Immerseel set. A fine alternative it is too, with a consistency of approach, crystalline clarity, balance, and animation. Perahia is unhindered by academic issues, and he turns in elegant and exuberant readings that possess abundant energy in the outer movements and gracious lyricism in the slow movements. The orchestra plays with enviable precision and enthusiasm, providing Perahia with excellent support through the dozen discs. If a “How to…” manual for this repertoire were possible, these performers could write it. This is fresh and invigorating music-making and it wears the mantle of the era with an enviable freshness.
For a number of years, the “heavy metal” (aka modern instrument) recordings with Alfred Brendel and the Academy of Saint Martin in the Fields stood tall, but those ADD recordings have now been eclipsed by these “Triple-D” recordings with Murray Perahia and the English Chamber Orchestra.