WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 14 K449; Piano Concerto No. 27 K595
PERFORMER: Howard Shelley (piano/director); London Mozart Players
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9137 DDD
This Schiff/Végh disc is a highly successful addition to their on-going series of recordings of the Mozart piano concertos using modern instruments (Schiff plays a Bösendorfer). He not only plays exquisitely and in infallibly good taste – sample the slow movement of K413 – but he is an expert on the latest scholarly ideas about how Mozart should be performed. He even offers a discreet continuo realisation (filling in chords during the sections when the orchestra plays alone).
For the Rondo in A, the team has chosen the brilliant reconstruction by Paul Badura-Skoda and Charles Mackerras (some of the autograph manuscript is missing, but we have an authentic copy of the whole piano part): this is the work for which the musicologist Alan Tyson recently found two of the lost pages of Mozart’s score in the British Library.
The orchestral accompaniment is such a vast improvement on Végh’s usual Mozart style that one can only suppose Schiff’s benevolent influence to have been omnipresent.
Howard Shelley and the London Mozart Players are now on to volume three in their similarly successful series of the complete piano concertos, and this is another splendid record. Shelley is a superb musician: not only does he play with great taste and insight but his conducting is impeccable. And his ornamentation of the slow movement of K595 is a model of scholarly knowledge combined with musicianly flair. The sound is beguiling and the record can be recommended without reservation.
All is not so well with Mikhail Pletnev and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie, although there is some fine, sturdy pianism here, and the orchestral playing is first-rate. No. 24, the famous C minor concerto, in particular, is given a rousing, masculine reading with forward trumpets and good hard sticks on the kettledrums. Pletnev’s technique is excellent but his scholarly knowledge is not the equal of his musicianship. The arpeggio sections are played straight here. It is not a question of whether to ornament the sections or not; you must do so; not doing it at all is evading a vital issue. And Pletnev’s cadenza for the first movement of K491 is really very bad. I know what he is trying to do: supply K491 with a modern cadenza like Stockhausen’s for his son’s playing of Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto. No, sorry. It just won’t do. HC Robbins Landon