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Mozart: Piano Concertos No 17 & 19 / Badura-skoda, Et Al

Release Date: 02/14/2006 
Label:  Transart Live   Catalog #: 132   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Paul Badura-Skoda
Conductor:  Paul Badura-Skoda
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Prague Chamber Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MOZART Piano Concertos: No. 17 in G; No. 19 in F Paul Badura-Skoda (pn), cond; Prague CO TRANSART 132 (55:11)

It is hard to believe that it has been 40 years since Eva and Paul Badura-Skoda’s pioneering work, Interpreting Mozart on the Keyboard was published in Vienna (the English translation appeared five years later). By that time, the quest for textual authenticity—in other words, discerning what the composer wrote on the page, according to extant Read more manuscripts and early editions, in contrast to the distorting layers of superimposed editorial advice by celebrated performers and pedagogues as manifest in popularly available scores—was making significant headway, partially due to the advocacy of pianists such as Artur Schnabel and Edwin Fischer. But in the late 1950s, very few pianists, or harpsichordists for that matter, had begun to explore the late 18th-century Viennese pianos that so delighted, stimulated, and inspired Mozart. Paul Badura-Skoda was one in that vanguard whose curiosity about the essence of Mozart’s musical expression demanded some familiarity with the instrument the composer knew and loved. And while he never abandoned the modern piano, Badura-Skoda’s live performances and recordings, like those of Jörg Demus and Lili Kraus, were informed and enriched by experience with historical instruments. What a pleasure, then, to encounter this release, recorded in 2003, of Badura-Skoda’s (who turns 80 this year) with the Prague CO in two Mozart concertos. Still in fine form, his playing is seasoned and tempered by experience. Fortunately, Badura-Skoda has not become some eminence grise of Viennese pianists. His lustrous playing is animated by a youthful love of that quintessentially youthful composer, Mozart.

First a word about ensemble-playing, the ineffable give and take between soloist and orchestra on which Mozart concertos are particularly dependent to achieve their full effect. Badura-Skoda’s association with the Prague CO dates from 1970, and I’ve rarely heard a collaboration exuding greater joy, ease, or mutual sympathy. Mozart evokes the hunt in the busily ebullient presto finale of the G-Major Concerto. In this performance, soloist and orchestra gallop to the final cadence under sunny skies with a playfulness and elation that’s hard to resist. The first movement of No. 19 abounds in tricky entrances for the wind band, which are difficult enough when a sensitive and experienced conductor is on the podium. Since many of these entrances occur at times when the pianist is busy with both hands, Badura-Skoda and the orchestra can accomplish these passages only by the most focused listening to one another. The result is truly precision ensemble, reflected happily in dozens of other instances throughout both concertos. It’s collaboration of a fluency and delicate calibration that one feels fortunate to encounter in a trio or quartet, much less between a soloist and orchestra.

Since Badura-Skoda has literally “written the book” on articulation in Mozart, it won’t come as a surprise that the solo piano unfolds with all the composer’s rhetorical indications beautifully realized. No question here of the letter killing the spirit. On the contrary, the spirit is kindled and ennobled by the attention lent every detail of Mozart’s textures. Some listeners may find Badura-Skoda’s tendency to “punch” the downbeat of melodic phrases and overemphasize the “landing note” of leaps in passagework bothersome. But the artist without some distinguishing fingerprints of style is very rare, and these tendencies never lapse into mannerism. Dialogues between orchestral and soloist are perfectly matched in emphasis and intensity, whether light-hearted or deeply serious.

Comparable (though not preferable) performances of K 453 include those of Serkin/Abbado (DG 415206) and Pires/Abbado (DC 439941), and in K 459 the collaborations of Serkin/Abbado (DG 410989) and Goode/Orpheus CO (Nonesuch 79608).

Transart’s engineers have captured a perfectly balanced sound with great clarity and presence. The booklet contains Badura-Skoda’s insightful essays on both concertos. I believe this technically excellent recording of beautiful performances will satisfy the most discriminating connoisseur of this demanding and infinitely rewarding repertoire. Newcomers will find it a warm welcome to a realm where, as Einstein put it, “Mozart achieved his ideal.” Highly recommended.

FANFARE: Patrick Rucker
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Piano no 17 in G major, K 453 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Paul Badura-Skoda (Piano)
Conductor:  Paul Badura-Skoda
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Prague Chamber Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1784; Vienna, Austria 
Length: 28 Minutes 37 Secs. 
Concerto for Piano no 19 in F major, K 459 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Paul Badura-Skoda (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Prague Chamber Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1784; Vienna, Austria 
Length: 26 Minutes 28 Secs. 

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