We are long past the distorted fashion in which Mozart concertos used to be played, with a tinkly piano miniaturizing the solo part and a fattened Romantic orchestra playing on a totlaly different scale. Making Mozart sound civilized counted for too much, but now drama, contrast, and surprises count just as much. This, the second Mozart concerto CD from Pollini in a year (he waited years since his first foray with Karl Bohm as conductor in 1976), is suavely beautiful Mozart played on an elegant scale with every refined instinct that the famed pianist has at his disposal. Nor, to clear the air right off, is he glacial or clinical, two charges directed at Pollini by his detractors.
The two chosen pieces stand on opposite sides of the great divide of 1784. The major concertos, starting with K. 449, come in or after that year, the lesser ones before. Concerto No. 12, K. 414, is melodic, winning, and uncomplicated, and praise goes to Pollini for not trying to dress it up. His reeading is unaffected but highly focused at the same time -- the magic of this pianist has always been that the music forms a single arc from beginning to end.
The same holds true in the far more ambitious Concerto No. 24 K. 491, one of Mozart's deepest explorations into the noble melancholy of C minor (as an appendage, listen to the great Fantasia in C minor K. 396. My question going in was whether Pollini as conductor could express enough force and tension in the orchestral part. The answer is not quite. But as in the earlier CD from last year, he's enormously helped by the Vienna Phil. and its natural affinity for Mozart -- they do find enough depth. However, if you want marked dramatic contrast between soloist and accompaniment, it's not to be found here. Pollini prefers a melliflous surface, and beauty trumps drama.
In the end, it would be hard to imagine a contemporary pianist who plays these two works with such finesse, so I will put all objections aside. The catalog has been dominated for years by period-style performances of Mozart, and anyone who can give us traditional Mozart without sounding heavy and dated is to be commended. Pollini does that and goes farther, reaching the frontier of the sublime, even if he doesn't cross over as fully as Clifford Curzon or Edwin Fischer.