MOZART Piano Concertos: No. 17; No. 20 • Vladimir Ashkenazy (pn, cond); Padova and Veneto O • EXTON 170 (Hybrid multichannel SACD: 62:33)
MOZART Piano Concertos: No. 23; No. 24 • Mitsuko Uchida (pn, cond); Cleveland O • DECCA 001327602 (59:49)
Read more I liked these two discs; I found them to be beautifully performed and recorded. I thought the many moods Mozart embedded in these works were handled with taste and, frequently, passion. I recommend both discs without reservation to anyone who loves Mozart, and especially to people who are discovering classical music in general and Mozart in particular.
Both artists, Mitsuko Uchida and Vladimir Ashkenazy, serve as conductors for their respective orchestras; both have recorded these same works in the 1980s with different orchestras: Ashkenazy with the Philharmonia and Uchida with the English Chamber Orchestra, Jeffrey Tate conducting. If you have heard the earlier recordings, then you are likely to have similar impressions of these performances from the first decade of the 21st century. I found the differences between their earlier performances and these new albums to be subtle and, for the most part, inconsequential.
I spent several days listening to the two new discs and comparing each artist to his earlier performances. I also compared each artist’s new recording against what the other artist had done previously. Additional comparisons were made between the new recordings and recordings by Alfred Brendel (St. Martin in the Fields), Andras Schiff (Camerata Academica des Mozarteum Salzburg), Maria João Pires (Fondation Gulbenkian de Lisbonne Chamber Orchestra) and Daniel Barenboim (English Chamber Orchestra). The results: the differences were subtle (except for cadenzas that, unless they were Mozart’s, were individual and specific to the pianists), and the similarities were often so striking it was often impossible to tell which disc was playing. Many times the tempos were nearly identical, and even the timbre of the pianos was similar. The notable exception to sonics was Ashkenazy’s Exton disc. It is a SACD hybrid disc in 5.0 (not 5.1) surround sound. Played in two-channel stereo, the sonics are quite similar to the other recordings, but in 5.0 a spacious ambience opens. That may be reason enough for some folks to gravitate to this album.