Beethoven, Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 25 in C, K503

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven,Mozart
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 25 in C, K503
PERFORMER: Martha Argerich (piano); Netherlands CO/Szymon Goldberg, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Heinz Wallberg
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 5 56974 2
Bryce Morrison’s booklet note honours Argerich’s ‘flame-throwing brilliance and engulfing temperament’. Essential qualities, surely, in the Romantic/virtuoso literature normally associated with this mercurial artist, but in Mozart (if less so in Beethoven), they’re often unwarranted, even destructive influences.

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Argerich’s 1978 account of Mozart’s big C major Concerto, K503, recorded live at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, gets off to a shaky start well before she touches the keyboard; faltering ensemble and poor orchestral balance (the bassoons are in your lap at their first solo entry) bode ill during the opening ritornello. Argerich’s manner is simply too heavy-handed to make even this most ceremonial of Mozart concertos sound other than bombastic. There are pleasing touches in the liquid Andante, though Argerich never matches Brendel’s confessional intimacy, and the finale – as racy and aquiline as any in Mozart – sounds unrelenting and straitjacketed. Beethoven’s First, taped in 1992, receives a technically assured, but otherwise forgettable reading, perhaps interesting in concert, but unlikely to withstand the repeated scrutiny that preservation on disc allows.

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Collectors seeking this coupling will find Leonard Bernstein’s performances as soloist/director with the New York Philharmonic more plausible than Argerich’s, but the edgy 1960 recording isn’t adequately tamed by Sony’s digitised reissue. In K503, Alfred Brendel with Marriner and the ASMF bring an ideal fusion of insight, elegance and superlative orchestral playing; they’re still unbeatable, despite Till Fellner’s admirable 1997 Erato recording. With Beethoven’s First Concerto, András Schiff’s Teldec version, with Haitink and the Dresden Staatskapelle, stands way ahead of the rest, and is beautifully recorded, too. Michael Jameson