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Mozart: Piano Concertos K 414 & 491 / Pollini, Vienna Po

Release Date: 05/13/2008 
Label:  Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog #: 1154069   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Maurizio Pollini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 55 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MOZART Piano Concertos: No. 12 in A; No. 24 in c Maurizio Pollini, (pn); cond; Vienna P DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 001099402 (55:13) Live: Vienna 6/2007

In a period of three or four years in the mid 1970s, a series of recordings appeared on DG featuring the young Italian pianist Maurizio Pollini. Prominent among these recordings were stunning accounts of Chopin’s Preludes, op. 28, and Études, ops. 10 and 25; Prokofiev’s Seventh Sonata; the complete piano music of Schoenberg; the last six Beethoven Sonatas; Read more and, issued in 1976, an LP of Mozart’s Piano Concertos in A, K 488 and in F, K 459. These recordings, and the many that followed, established Pollini definitively as one of the leading pianists of his generation. To be sure, there were some detractors who found his playing cold and inexpressive, but the critical and public consensus was that the effortless technical mastery and crystalline beauty of his playing more than compensated for any lack of overt emotionalism. I remember my first hearing of Pollini’s K 488, which struck me as the most beautiful performance I had ever heard of a Mozart piano concerto; now, more than three decades later, it has yet to be supplanted in my pantheon of great Mozart concerto performances.

For some unfathomable reason, even as the breadth and depth of his discography grew, Pollini was to record no more Mozart (a listing in Schwann for the B?-Major Concerto, K 456 was evidently a misprint) for 30 years, until a live 2005 recording of the Concertos K 453 and 467 appeared in 2006 (2007 in the U.S., reviewed by me in Fanfare 31:1). Three concertos recorded in concert in 1981 were issued a few years ago by Andante, but these evidently were not originally intended for commercial release. Happily, we have not had to wait another 30 years for the next pair of concertos; like the previous ones, the present two were taken down live and conducted from the keyboard. (Karl Böhm was the conductor for the 1976 disc).

Annotator Paolo Petazzi identifies these two concertos as “the first and last in a series of astounding works that Mozart composed between 1782 and 1786.” Well, not precisely. Concerto No. 12, K 414, illustrates the misleading nature of the standard numeration of these works: composed in 1782 as one of a set of three concertos designed to introduce Mozart to Vienna and published together as a single opus, it actually predates No. 11, K 413; and is in fact only Mozart’s fifth real solo piano concerto. Nos. 1–4 were arrangements of works by other composers, and Nos. 7 and 10 are, respectively, the concertos for three and two pianos. By comparison to the previous Concerto in E?, K 271 from 1777, these first Viennese concertos are quite modest works; K 414, while its orchestra includes oboes and horns, was designed to be playable with string-quartet accompaniment. There is a huge leap in stature between the three concertos of 1782–83 and the first three of 1784 (K 449–51); and, the string of incontestable masterpieces in the genre begins with the G-Major Concerto, K 453, which immediately followed the composition of the Quintet for Piano and Winds, K 452. This and the eight works that followed between 1784 and 1786 bring to the genre a new sense of scale, a new degree of sophistication, and a new prominence of wind instruments, culminating not in the C-Minor Concerto recorded here, but in the C-Major Concerto, K 503, the last of the concertos composed in Vienna; the renowned pianist-scholar William Kinderman, in his notes to Alfred Brendel’s recording, refers to the opening movement of K 503 as “one of Mozart’s grandest and most symphonic conceptions, inviting comparison with the ‘Prague’ and ‘Jupiter’ Symphonies.”

Petazzi also errs in claiming that clarinets appear for the first time in Mozart’s concertos in No. 24, K 491; he had used them both in the E?-Major Concerto, K 482 and in the A-Major, K 488. The C-Minor is, however, the only concerto in which Mozart calls for both oboes and clarinets; along with the rest of the usual wind complement plus trumpets and timpani, this concerto thus calls for the largest orchestra of any of Mozart’s piano concertos.

Despite the striking stylistic contrast, both concertos here receive performances of stylistic purity and technical perfection. These are conventional performances (i.e., no original instruments, no continuo playing from Pollini—even though it is clear that at least at the time of No. 12, K 414, it was still Mozart’s practice to “accompany” the tuttis on the piano)—but performances that are informed by modern scholarship (trills beginning on the upper note, appoggiaturas on the beat, and Eingänge , or “lead-ins,” following fermatas) and free of mannerism. In K 414, Pollini plays Mozart’s second cadenzas—longer and flashier—in the outer movements, and the first in the Andante. The sound has an immediacy often missing from live recordings, but there is no audible audience noise, at least listening on speakers at a reasonable volume. I did not use headphones.

The C-Minor Concerto is a completely different kettle of fish. Mozart rarely wrote his large-scale works in minor keys: this is one of only two piano concertos in minor, and the two G-Minor Symphonies are the only minor-mode works of some 50 in that genre. The key of C Minor carried an especial Affekt or expressive character; like Beethoven and Brahms who followed him, Mozart treated this key as one for the most serious musical business. He must have written this work for himself, not only practically speaking—he left no written cadenzas—but also musically; it certainly must have challenged the Viennese audiences to the utmost. Pollini’s performance is one of understated intensity, reminiscent of the classic 1955 version by Solomon. The first movement is brisk but not fast; the numerous passages featuring winds alone (e.g., the even-numbered variations in the third movement) are beautifully played. Pollini uses cadenzas by Salvatore Sciarrino; I find them to be stylistically appropriate and in good taste. The engineers have left in the applause following the C-Minor, the second and last item on the CD.

Like Pollini’s other Mozart recordings, these are exemplary performances to which I expect to return frequently. Essential listening for anyone serious about Mozart or the piano.

FANFARE: Richard A. Kaplan
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Piano no 12 in A major, K 414 (385p) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Maurizio Pollini (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1782; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 6/2007 
Venue:  Live  Live Vienna, Austria 
Concerto for Piano no 24 in C minor, K 491 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Maurizio Pollini (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1786; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 6/2007 
Venue:  Live  Live Vienna, Austria 

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