LABELS: DG Entrée
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 21 in C, K467; Piano Concerto No. 26 in D, K537 (Coronation)
PERFORMER: Maria João Pires (piano); CO of Europe, Vienna PO/Claudio Abbado
CATALOGUE NO: 471 738-2 Reissue (1993, 1995)
Pires has long been one of the most cultivated of Mozartians. And these two performances can hold their own against any in the catalogue. Other pianists have brought a more forthright sweep to the opening movement of No. 21. But Pires’s thoughtful phrasing, glowing cantabile and pellucid passagework invariably give delight. She and the strings of the fabulous COE draw a cool, chaste line in the Andante (no moony ‘Elvira Madigan’ associations here); and I’ve rarely heard the finale done with such mischievous wit.
Pires is almost as good in the Coronation, recorded live with a slimmed-down VPO. I would have welcomed a tad more flamboyance and weight in the bravura of the first movement. But she gracefully embellishes the spare lines of the Andante, and shows a special care for those moments of introspection and pathos that belie the Concerto’s reputation for heartless brilliance. It’s absurd, of course, to recommend a single ‘best buy’ in these works. Brendel, with a touch more sinew and an even more radical approach to ornamentation, remains my favourite in No. 26. But when I want to hear No. 21 I shall turn to Pires at least as often as Brendel, Perahia, Schiff, Lupu et al. Richard Wigmore