Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Concertos: Nos. 9, 18, 19, 26
Paul Badura-Skoda (pn, cond); Prague CO
NCA 60229 (2 DVDs: 116:00) Live: Prague 8/14 & 16/2006
If one were to say that Paul Badura-Skoda wrote the book on performing Mozart, one would be speaking the literal truth. His 1957 tome co-authored with his musicologist wife, Eva
, Interpreting Mozart on the Keyboard
, updated and published in English in 2008 as
Mozart: The Performance of His Piano Pieces and Other Compositions
, remains an indispensable landmark of the Mozart literature; the duo also prepared the performing editions of Mozart’s Concertos Nos. 17–19 for the
Neue Mozart Ausgabe
. In addition, Badura-Skoda was in the 1950s already one of the first modern pianists to explore performing Mozart on the fortepiano; though for the most part (as here) he has played Mozart on modern instruments, the experience exerted a fundamental influence upon his interpretive style. While he is particularly renowned as an interpreter of Mozart and Schubert, his repertoire, scholarship, and other interests are wide-ranging, as one can quickly gather from Peter Burwasser’s interview with him in
28:2. In the review of a multi-CD set of performances selected by the pianist accompanying that interview, Burwasser concisely summed up the virtues of Badura-Skoda’s art: “elegance, intelligence, and a joy of music-making.” All three elements are very much to the fore here as, at age 79, the pianist leads the Prague Chamber Orchestra from the keyboard in inimitable, sparkling performances of four Mozart piano concerti.
I simply cannot praise these performances highly enough. The renditions belie Badura-Skoda’s advanced years; far from being an elder statesman’s Olympian final ruminations, they have the
joie de vivre
and playful twinkle in the eye of unimpaired youthfulness. The playing of the solo part displays all the pianistic virtues ideal for Mozart: a purling legato that never turns the individual notes into an indistinct blur; finely chiseled phrasing that never becomes clipped, choppy, staccato, or mannered in any way; adroitly placed subtle accents and agogic touches in phrasing that never distend the musical line; finely sprung rhythms that dance but never mince or become precious. Tempi in the outer movements are brisk and lively but never rushed, while those in the slow movements flow smoothly and are given meditative breadth but never bog down into somnolence. Soloists and orchestra are ideally balanced, and the latter’s playing is as sterling as the former’s. It is especially gratifying to see, as well as hear, the positively contagious sheer delight of Badura-Skoda and his colleagues in their music-making. In a review in 31:1 of a Transart CD of the Concertos 17 and 19 featuring the same performers, Patrick Rucker wrote, “I’ve rarely heard a collaboration exuding greater joy, ease, or mutual sympathy.” I agree completely. They all are obviously having the time of their lives, and their smiles light up the entire concert hall.
The sound quality and visual resolution are both excellent, the former being a bit bright and forward; the accompanying booklet notes are intelligent and informative. My one minor caveat is about the camerawork, which tends far too often to default to one of two modes: a leftward view of Badura-Skoda and the violins, or a head-on shot of the ensemble that always clips off the far right side. I counted 10 violinists, four violists, two cellists, pairs of winds, and a timpanist in the orchestra, but I have no idea if there are one or two double basses because they are never seen. On DVD, the only alternatives I can presently find are Mitsuko Uchida with Jeffrey Tate and the Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra on Brilliant Classics in the Concerto No. 9, and two performances of the Concerto No. 19 respectively featuring Maurizio Pollini, Karl Böhm, and the Vienna Philharmonic on DG, and Radu Lupu, David Zinman, and the German Chamber Philharmonic on Euroarts. There are of course also multitudes of performances of these concerti on CD, but Badura-Skoda’s versions can stand abreast of any of them. This is simply what great Mozart playing is all about.
FANFARE: James A. Altena
DVD Version NTSC / Video Format 16:9 / Audio Format: Stereo
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Piano no 19 in F major, K 459 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Paul Badura-Skoda (Piano)
Prague Chamber Orchestra
Written: 1784; Vienna, Austria
Length: 26 Minutes 28 Secs.
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