Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 19 in F, K459; Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K466

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COMPOSERS: Mozart
LABELS: Challenge
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 19 in F, K459; Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K466
PERFORMER: Nikolai Lugansky (piano); Netherlands Radio CO/Lev Markiz
CATALOGUE NO: CC 72043
Perhaps because it lacks a genuine slow movement, K459 has never been among Mozart’s most popular concertos, though its finale offers the most spectacular orchestral display of his contrapuntal mastery before the Jupiter Symphony. Thanks to sensibly flowing tempi in all three movements, Nikolai Lugansky is a good deal more convincing in this work than he is in the famous D minor Concerto. Not that his playing is anything to write home about. There’s a moment in the opening movement of K459 that exemplifies a general problem: Mozart begins the development section by having the soloist re-enter on a dramatic chord of A minor, unleashing a torrent of triplets – rather like a dry run for the central episode of K466’s slow movement. Lugansky’s response is decidedly half-hearted (as it is, indeed, in that turbulent passage of the later concerto), as though he felt Mozart needed to be handled with kid gloves. Certainly, the D minor Concerto is seriously lacking in tension and drama throughout, and even the sudden outbursts in Beethoven’s cadenzas don’t elicit much of a reaction.

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Given the competition in this repertoire it’s difficult to feel these rather run-of-the-mill performances make the grade. In K466 there’s the eloquent Decca recording with Curzon and Britten (though their second movement sounds impossibly slow these days), and the beautifully stylish account by Brendel and Mackerras (Philips). But for a truly compelling performance, try the young Kissin: the electrifying cadenzas alone are worth the price of the disc. With Marriner in K459, Brendel offers a dazzling finale, and admirably characterised playing throughout. Misha Donat