Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos 24 & 25; Fantasia in D minor, K397

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WORKS: Piano Concertos Nos 24 & 25; Fantasia in D minor, K397
PERFORMER: Imogen Cooper (piano/director); Northern Sinfonia/Bradley Creswick (co-director)


The sharply divergent reactions I have to this disc merit the title ‘a tale of two concertos.’ In K491, Imogen Cooper and the Northern Sinfonia do ample justice to the gravitas, intensity, drama, and poignancy of this great work. Full, immediate recorded sound makes the orchestra seem larger than life, and captures the pianist so closely that even her most wispy utterances sound tangible and substantial. Although I greatly admire Sir Clifford Curzon’s imaginative, subtle, and responsive playing in his various recordings of the C minor Concerto, this new performance displays a more tightly knit relationship between piano and orchestra; the unity of conception and execution results in a concentrated brio that often seems well-nigh ideal. In K503, however, what is no doubt a similar approach strikes me as fussy, affected, precious, and overly detailed, more focused on lively performance style than the music being performed. When played on modern instruments and heard through close microphone placement, the articulations, phrasings, and dynamic shaping familiar from historically informed performances emerge as almost garish. The varying success of these two performances suggests that the surging drama of K491 profits from performers’ inventiveness and apparent spontaneity, whereas the more spaciously ordered sound world of K503 asks for a more patient, almost architectural approach, such as that offered by Mitsuko Uchida and Jeffrey Tate in their lyrical 1988 Philips recording. As in the concertos, Cooper’s account of the D minor Fantasia is notable for varying or ornamenting subsequent statements of identical passages. David Breckbill