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Mozart: Piano Concertos 17 & 20 / Anderszewski, Scottish CO

Release Date: 02/07/2006 
Label:  Erato   Catalog #: 44696   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Piotr Anderszewski
Conductor:  Piotr Anderszewski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 3 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MOZART Piano Concertos: No. 17; No. 20 ? Piotr Anderszewski (pn), cond; Scottish CO ? VIRGIN 44696 (62:44)

Hard on the heels of a recent clutch of pianist-conducted Mozart concerto recordings reviewed over this writer?s byline in the March/April issue, comes this similar entry from the Polish-Hungarian pianist-conductor Piotr Anderszewski, coupling one work (the D-Minor No. 20) generally regarded as being among the favorite Mozart concertos with a second one Read more that happens to be a particular favorite of mine. This would be a notably delicious reviewing assignment even if the performances themselves had proved to be merely good.

And oh my goodness?as it turns out, calling these performances ?good? would be somewhat akin to calling Mahler?s Eighth a ?pretty little tune.? I?ve waxed pretty rhapsodic in print over a number of highly satisfying recordings (notably in the choral realm) that have come to my attention by virtue of my Fanfare reviewing gig; but I tend not to be a very demonstrative type in person, and this disc is the first of the lot that has literally set me, by turns, to singing along, shivering with spine-chills, and weeping for sheer joy. Any number of fetching details could be cited in defense of this severely uncharacteristic behavior: the generally crisp but not over-aggressive piano articulation; small-scale dynamic contrasts that are frequently strong but never quite over-the-top; discreet touches of rubato at critical structural transitions. But such gestures, if not part of a clear overall plan, can easily produce a cumulative effect of mere fussiness; here they add up to a whole that?s infinitely greater than the sum of its parts (if that?s not a mathematical oxymoron?I stopped after Algebra II).

The disc?s highlight among highlights is the unusually broad opening movement of the D-Minor. Running times begin to tell the story here: four comparison recordings line up, interestingly enough, at near-exact 30-second intervals, ranging from 13:08 (van Immerseel) to 14:24 (the elder Serkin), with Brendel and Moravec in between at 13:30 and 14:02 respectively. Anderszewski adds another 30-plus seconds to Serkin, with a first-movement running time given in the program booklet as an even 15 minutes, but actually reading out on my player at 15:08. But taking the piece this slowly is just Step 1; what Anderszewski demonstrates here is that the brooding emotional intensity of this movement?striking enough in any halfway-decent performance?can become even more concentrated, almost unbearably so, when given a looser temporal leash on which to play itself out. Listening to this performance is something like traveling through an art museum in the company of a docent who doesn?t insist on doing a lot of talking about the paintings, but makes sure you have plenty of time to contemplate them for yourself; in this respect, it reminds me strongly of the justly-renowned Curzon-Szell Brahms D-Minor, with its daringly deliberate and, likewise, utterly riveting slow movement.

Space considerations occasionally lead me to shirk what some might consider part of my critical responsibility in the matter of piano-concerto cadenzas, but here the subject must be addressed briefly since it leads to yet another aspect of these performances? throat-gripping distinctiveness: Mozart?s cadenzas are used in No. 17, and (lacking any from Mozart) the more-or-less standard Beethoven in the opening movement of No. 20; but after that, Anderszewski strikes out on his own, supplying not just the requisite ?big? cadenza near the end of the finale, but a second shorter one at the re-transition to the main theme after the first ?B? episode earlier in that movement, and a couple of other patches of improvised embellishment in the second-movement Romanze?all of them exquisitely tasteful, perfectly proportioned, and (cf. above) emotionally hazardous for the listener. You won?t, of course, be able to sing along the first time around, but don?t rule it out after that.

A few astute readers may have noted by now that, in writing about recordings, I almost invariably consider it part of my task to write about the writing accompanying those recordings. That, lamentably, brings me to the one serious defect of this otherwise-superb release. Adélaïde de Place?s notes on the two concertos are, in fact, excellent; but we?re given not one word of biographical information about the pianist. (Not to mention the orchestra, whose contribution to the success of these renditions is ?essential,? in the strictest sense of the term, and equally distinguished.) Since I?d never heard of, much less heard, Anderszewski prior to encountering this disc, I was all set to issue a stentorian pronouncement that whoever at Virgin dropped this ball should be chained into a cheap folding chair and forced to listen to the 1812 Overture through headphones 25 times in a row. Having now discovered, with no small chagrin, that the present recording is at least his 12th, I?m going to substitute an upholstered armchair and cut the overture-repetition count to three; it?s still, in my opinion, well-nigh unforgivable to tell a CD listener nothing about an artist capable of such thoroughly magical music-making as this.

You?d think the ?recommend-or-not? question would be a no-brainer for such a distinguished release. For Mozart buffs, of course, it is; it will come as no surprise that I expect to return to these performances with considerable, if not obsessive, frequency. But knowing how tenacious first impressions can be when it comes to recordings, I can?t help wondering whether listeners making their initial acquaintance with these works via such distinctive renderings might wind up finding all subsequent ones wanting, however meritorious they might actually be. In the end, I have to assume that Fanfare?s readers are grownups and can parse this conundrum for themselves, possibly aided by a few citations to excellent but somewhat more ?mainstream? alternatives. It?s impossible to go far wrong with either Brendel or Perahia?the ultimate choice between the two depending primarily on whether your taste runs more to the former?s elegance or the latter?s energy. Period-instrument fans should do just fine with Bilson and/or van Immerseel. As already noted, the D-Minor is also fortunately included in Ivan Moravec?s notoriously and deliberately limited repertoire, in a thoroughly top-drawer Hänssler recording with Marriner?coupled, as it happens, with an equally fine No. 23 that I cited among possible alternatives to Jeremy Menuhin?s attractively understated Nimbus reading in the aforementioned March/April review. Listeners as fond as I am of the G-Major also need to know the 1986 Uchida/Tate rendition on Philips, but that one can?t quite be characterized as ?mainstream?: similar to the Curzon/Szell Brahms, its choice of a daringly deliberate tempo in the finale succeeds in revealing all manner of felicitous detail that many other performances miss. In any case, if you do decide that your first D-Minor or G-Major should be one of those earlier versions, the present Anderszewski readings must be your second.

FANFARE: James Carson
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Piano no 17 in G major, K 453 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Piotr Anderszewski (Piano)
Conductor:  Piotr Anderszewski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1784; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 09/2005 
Venue:  Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Scotland 
Length: 31 Minutes 26 Secs. 
Concerto for Piano no 20 in D minor, K 466 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Piotr Anderszewski (Piano)
Conductor:  Piotr Anderszewski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1785; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 09/2005 
Venue:  Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Scotland 
Length: 30 Minutes 48 Secs. 

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