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on 12 October 2011
Unlike most Americans, I am not all that thrilled by things that are new. This is especially true in classical music recordings where only about 1 percent of all new recordings are improvements over the time-tested, tried and true versions we've known previously. I re-learned that lesson recently when listening to a new set of Beethoven symphonies that, while new and somewhat improved, essentially left me cold and appreciating the other sets I'd known over the past 40 years.

However, that 1 percent can be miraculous and so it is here in a new set of keyboard concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91) from fortepianist Viviana Sofronitsky and Musica Antique Collegium Varsoviense (a group from Warsaw) under the baton of Tadeusz Karolak. To cut to the chase, this set is such an improvement over both the period collections by Jos van Immerseel and Anima Eterna and Malcolm Bilson-John Eliot Gardiner as to end the discussion immediately. Sofronitsky, who is the daughter of Russian pianist Vladimir, has established a remarkably consistent run through the Mozart keyboard concertos and uses an instrument so much better than anything heard before to quell any criticism and close out any comparison between this set and the predecessors.

Sofronitsky, who is aided by keyboard players Linda Nicholson and Mario Ashcauer in the multi-keyboard concertos, adapts a classical sensibility with a romantic edge in the works across the board. Whether it is one of the earliest concertos of one of the stormy minor key masterpieces -- as one can most easily hear by listening to Vol. VII with the concertos 6, 20 and 23 -- there is a remarkably unified consistency throughout the performances. Even some of the concertos I never cared much for in the past, such as Nos. 11 and 19, sprung immediately to life for me when played by these forces. I found myself humming, tapping my toe, and bobbing to and fro while listening to these glorious recordings.

When I played them straight up against Immerseel and Bilson, I found differences I never considered when listening to the older sets. First and foremost is Sofronitsky's instrument -- a Paul McNulty copy of a Walter fortepiano that stands out much better against the orchestra than either Immerseel's or Bilson's instruments, which sometimes get lost in orchestral tutti. In terms of performance, her Mozart style is flawless and she is supported in spades by the Warsaw band of 24 period players under conductor Karolak, a provincial conductor known well in Poland but not much outside that country. This exposure will surely elevate the status of this graduate of Warsaw's Chopin Institute. With the woodwind and brass lines so important in supporting Mozart's counterpoint, Karolak has taken great care to expose every important nuance in those parts.

This was in great contrast to Immerseel's set, which did not particularly focus on the supporting winds and horns. Immerseel is a senstive, beautiful player but his support is miniscule compared to what we hear for Sofronitsky. In the case of Bilson-Gardiner, a very different problem emerged. Compared to this set, those players don't seem together in approach. Bilson is, to me, as close as there is to a keyboard expert with no real opinion of the music he plays. To me, I've never been able to tell the difference in his approach to Beethoven or Mozart; it sounds the same. Meanwhile, Gardiner supports him with driven, electric reinforcement that often is too dramatic and powerful for early Mozart and more in keeping with the conductor's humorless Beethoven.

By comparison, the elements of beauty and happiness are almost alwasy on display in Sofronitsky and Karolak's Mozart, as I just heard again in the romance of the Concerto No. 20 when the rising notes bring the development to recapituation of the exposition theme. This is extraordinary collaboration mated to out of the ordinary playing by soloist(s) and band with equally prodigious ideas from the soloist and conductor. As you can probably tell, it is difficult for me to praise this set enough; in a lifetime listening to Mozart's concertos, this set seems to have merged the best elements of every one I've ever known.

There is nary a word in the booklet notes about the cadenzas Sofronitsky et al have chosen. I read online somewhere she used Mozart's; I suppose that must be true. The recordings were made between 2005-6 in Warsaw and, surprisingly, have just come to most critics' attention in the past year. The package comes in a cardboard box and every recording is in its own cardboard sleeve with documentation of the concertos it contains, their movements and timing. The booklet contains very interesting stories about every concerto, bios of the principals, and discussion of the instruments used -- a Paul McNulty fortepiano and a harpsichord used for the juvenile concertos. The DDD sound captures everything in balance with some depth.

The contents are as follows:

Vol. 1: Concertos Nos. 9 KV 271 "Jeunehomme" and 14 KV 449.
Vol. 2: Concertos Nos. 11 KV 413, 15 KV 450 and 19 KV 459.
Vol. 3: Concertos Nos. 25 KV 503, 26 KV 537 "Coronation" and Rondo KV 386.
Vol. 4: Concertos Nos. 12 KV 414, 13 KV 415 and 21 KV 467, sometimes subtitled Elvira Madigan for its role in that film.
Vol. 5: Concertos 5 KV 175, 10 for 2 keyboards KV 365 and 7 for 3 keyboards KV 242 subtitled "London".
Vol. 6: Concertos Nos. 22 KV 482, 24 KV 491 and Rondo KV 382.
Vol. 7: Concertos Nos. 6 KV 238, 20 KV 466 and 23 KV 488.
Vol. 8: Concertos Nos. 8 KV 246 "Lutzow", 16 KV 451 and 17 KV 453.
Vol. 9: Concertos Nos. 18 KV 456 and 27 KV 595.
Vol. 10: Harpsichord concertos Nos. 1, KV 37, 2, KV 39, 3, KV 40 and 4 KV 41.
Vol. 11: Harpsichord concertos Nos. 1-3 KV 107.

In summary, this is the best period performance rendition of Mozart keyboard concertos in good modern sound with performances that cross the fence from the exigencies of period performance to the sensitivities of the modern piano. This is definitely a candidate for recording of the year for 2011 or any other year and is an extraordinary value.
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I took a risk with this complete set of recordings of the Mozart Piano concertos. I based my risk on the fact that I wanted a period instrument cycle of recordings. I also found after research on the internet that there was a lot of positive support for the set. The risk paid off. I love this set. You cannot go wrong. It is just brilliant.

When we look for a recording of classical music we can use many things to help us decide which version to go for. One element to help us may be by the reputation of the performers. When you look at Mozart Piano concertos there are, perhaps, better known performers than those on this set and it would be understandable to fall into the idea of assuming that those better known performers are going to offer a superior version.
However make no mistake this set of performances offers a first class version of the complete set of concertos.

If you are looking for a performance on modern instruments then this set will not be any good since it is a period instrument performance.
However, if your priority is just the music itself, and/or you are interested in period instrument recordings, then you cannot go wrong with this wonderful set.

Viviana Sofronitsky and Musica Antique Collegium Varsoviense come from Warsaw. And although you may not be familiar with this group of performers they are of the highest calibre.
The period instrument sound is terrific. Viviana Sofronitsky plays on an instrument that is a faithful copy by Paul McNulty of a Walter fortepiano. This adds a wonderful sound texture and great atmosphere. The instrument is a copy of Mozart's favoured instrument and it offers a beautiful sound. All of the musicians offer a warm and engaging performance with a clear understanding of Mozart's intentions.

The second thing of note about the period instrument sound is the essential texture sound of the woodwind in particular, and the brass section which is an important part of the sound of Mozart.
Here the attention to detail to the authentic sound is excellent.

The first nine of the eleven discs cover the entire original Mozart piano concertos. The last two are different. These discs contain keyboard concertos that Mozart created by using elements form other established composers. Disc ten has concertos written in 1767 when Mozart was young. There are four harpsichord concertos and Mozart has borrowed and adapted from composers Leontzi Honaour, Hermann Friedrich Raupach, Johann Gottried Eckhart, and Johann Schobert.
Disc eleven has a similar theme with arrangements of music by J.C. Bach whom Mozart had met and befriended. The music on these discs were early concertos by Mozart and these are performed on harpsichord which gives a strong period sound and it distinguishes them from the more original concertos by Mozart on the previous discs performed on fortepiano.

Each of the eleven discs is contained in its own card sleeve and then in a card box with a nice presentation. The booklet is interesting and informative as it gives much detail about the instruments and the period interpretations.
The digital sound is consistently excellent throughout since the same performers and engineers were in the same venue over a relatively short time period between 2005 and 2006.

I was looking for recordings on period instruments and I already have all of the available recordings on period instruments by The Academy of Ancient Music with Christopher Hogwood and Robert Levin which are excellent. But unfortunately they were unable to create a complete set of recordings of all of the concertos. So I wanted something to fill the gaps.
This box set does more than that. It is a great set of recordings in its own right and every disc offers a brilliant period instrument performance.
This set was easily an excellent choice.
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on 7 August 2013
I've had the Bilson/Gardiner complete set of these works in my collection for quite some time but this has rarely been aired in recent years! Why? I wasn't sure until I came across this recording purely by chance, heard a couple of excerpts which led me to purchase the set and then suddenly it all became clear. While Gardiner's is a fine solid account, one begins to feel it lacks something more natural and that one is listening more to Beethoven in style than Mozart! This isn't the case with Karolak's stunning enterprise. What you get here are joyful, natural, wonderful performances with superb playing from both Sofronitsky and the marvellous Warsaw band, plus the excellent recording quality which allows for plenty upfront detail of the authentic instruments :-) This set has proved it's possible to breathe new life into well known works and I've a feeling it will be remaining in my collection for much longer than Gardiner's! Read the other reviews and make up your own mind.
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on 22 August 2013
For some time I'd been on the lookout for a set of the Mozart Piano Concertos to compliment the exquisitely played selection from Casadesus and Szell. And while there is a large number of contenders, none were totally convincing.

I've never understood the popularity of the Murray Perahia set, mainly because I don't at all appreciate the overly percussive instrument he uses, with its skeletal lack of tone. The Ashkenazy cycle gave great delight at first, but the more I listened the less I seemed to find. The overall mood Alfred Brendel brings is for me too cerebral and studied for this music. I greatly admire Mitsuko Uchida's playing in these concertos, truly wonderful sensitivity, mystical and responsive. But felt that the overall approach wasn't wholly convincing. And so I kept looking...

It was by chance I noticed this set, played by Viviana Sofronitsky - a name I confess that meant little to me (perhaps it was the extremely attractive presentation of this boxed set that drew my attention). But what a find! A sheer delight!

The soundscape is marvellous in every detail. The fortepiano (by Paul McNulty after Anton Walter - a maker favoured by Mozart) sounds utterly delightful and integrates to perfection with the strings and wind of the Musica Antiqua Collegium Varsoviense (a name that also meant little to me before). The recording itself is likewise ideal, and with transfers made at a high level, no detail is lost - and detail there is a-plenty!

The only comment I can make is that this is the only set of these miraculously beautiful pieces that gives me the thoroughly convincing impression that I'm actually listing to Mozart himself at the keyboard! No other set I've heard (or for that matter, performance of individual concertos) has come near to providing me with that wonderfully impossible fantasy. But listening to these performances it's difficult not to believe one is seated in a comfortable, medium-sized venue, warm light of chandeliers providing a subtly shifting glow, while a little distance in front of one the slight, serious yet playful, figure of Mozart weaves his golden threads of music into the textures of a band of totally committed and wholly competent players. What a joy!
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on 7 December 2015
This set includes all the keyboard concertos Mozart ever composed or put together, including the multiple-keyboard concerti, the very early works compiled from other composers, and the arrangements of J. C. Bach sonatas. I suppose some people might want it for that reason alone. The infant works are played on a harpsichord, all the rest on a copy of a Walter, probably too "late" an instrument for pre-1785 works, but still a classic Viennese-action sound.

Viviana Sofronitsky is a too-little-known artist (and fascinating character) who I heard for the first time very recently. I say more about her in a review of a Schubert disc – follow my link to find it. She made this set in Warsaw ten years ago, with a local historically-informed band who have a pleasantly rustic twang, rather like that of Manfred Huss's Haydn Sinfonietta Wien.

Technically Sofronitsky is among the best of early-keyboard players, yielding nothing even to Andreas Staier, and certainly not to (say) Brautigam or Bezuidenhout. In all these concertos she sounds relaxed and unhurried, not striving for effect or trying to be "different", but rather giving a strong impression of simply enjoying the music for its own sake. In her tempi and in her use of ornament and improvisation she seems both natural and stylish (perhaps that's much the same thing). I rarely listen to complete sets in their entirety, but in this case I found myself listening to more and more works just for the pleasure of it.

Of previous "period" sets of the Mozart concertos, this one most resembles that by Robert Levin and Hogwood from 1995; but I prefer Sofronitsky's orchestra to Hogwood's rather bland AAM. I put Sofronitsky's set well ahead of Bilson/Gardiner, not caring for Gardiner's driving and remorseless shaping of every phrase, and ahead of the recent Brautigam recording, where speed seems to have become an end in itself.

What may interest some listeners is the issue of balance between piano and band. The acoustic the engineers offer is that of a concert hall, with the piano at the front of an orchestra in the usual way – as do other HIP sets. This would be wrong for most 18th century keyboard concertos, which we know were performed in smallish halls with very small bands, but is less improbable for Mozart, who did give public concerts in large rooms – like the Burgtheatre in Vienna or the Estates Theatre in Prague. Most other recordings cheat at the mixing stage to make the fortepiano audible against a large group – which it usually fails to be in concert – but this recording is au naturel (as far as I can tell). Audibility was achieved here by Paul McNulty, who seems to have voiced up the instrument to make it more penetrating (at least that's what I guess from close listening on good speakers) though I have no idea how he has done this. He anyway prefers the Viennese action, which is dryer and more clangy that English pianos, but here the instrument has a distinct tangent-piano ring to it – not unpleasant, and certainly not unhistorical, but rather different from other fortepiano timbres we have become used to. We hear solo instrument and band in the same acoustic – an unusual and refreshing result.
Well worth a listen, and not just to amateurs of "period" performance.
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on 10 March 2012
VAN DE SANDE'S REVIEW IS TIP-TOP AND ACCURATE BUT I WOULD JUST LIKE TO REITERATE THE PASSION AND CRAFTSMANSHIP WHICH HAS EVIDENTLY BEEN INVESTED INTO THIS SET. MY IMPRESSION OF THIS MUSIC IS PROBABLY DOUBLY PLEASING BECAUSE THE ONLY OTHER SET I HAVE KNOWN IS BY DEREK HAN WHICH WAS INCLUDED IN THE BRILLIANT MOZART EDITION. HOWEVER THE HAN RECORDINGS, ALTHOUGH NOT DIRE, DID NOT DO MUCH TO CONVINCE ME OF MOZART'S CONCERTOS. HOWEVER, I REALLY DO THINK THAT SOFRONITSKY HAS PERFECTLY REALISED MOZART'S INTENDED SOUND WORLD WITH THESE WORKS; THE CULTURED CIVILITY AND HUMOUR IS SOUNDLY ECHOED BY THE ORCHESTRA AS WELL, WHICH IS A TREAT. WHEN I FIRST HEARD THIS SET I KNEW IT WAS ONE WHICH WOULD GIVE A LIFETIME OF PLEASURE.

THE MOST STRIKING ELEMENT OF THESE RECORDINGS IS OF COURSE THE INSTRUMENT USED; AND THIS ONE IS INDEED A DELIGHT. THE BOOKLET MAINTAINS THAT ACCORDING TO MOZART'S SON CARL 'MOST REMARKABLE IS THE WING-SHAPED PIANOFORTE FOR WHICH MY FATHER HAD A SPECIAL PREFERENCE TO SUCH A DEGREE THAT HE NOT ONLY WANTED TO HAVE IT IN HIS STUDY ALL THE TIME BUT EXCLUSIVELY USED THIS AND NO OTHER INSTRUMENT IN ALL HIS CONCERTS, REGARDLESS OF WHETHER THEY TOOK PLACE IN COURT, IN THE PALACES OF NOBLEMEN OR IN PUBLIC PLACES'. INDEED THIS PIANOFORTE HAS A VERY SWEET SOUND AND IS COMPLIMENTED BY THE PIANIST'S DYNAMIC TOUCH, FOR THE NOTES REALLY FLOW BEAUTIFULLY FROM HER HANDS.

THE 11 CDS HEREIN ARE SOME OF THE MOST CHEERFUL AND PLEASING MUSICAL ADVENTURES FROM THE CLASSICAL REPERTOIRE. MANY SETS FAIL TO DO THEM JUSTICE WHICH IS A SHAME BUT MOREOVER, THEY LACK THE REAL EMOTIONAL SPECTRUM OF MOZART'S MUSIC. YES IT IS HAPPY, FLAMBOYANT AND OFTEN HILARIOUS, EVEN TWEE AND IRONIC BUT WHAT MOST SETS MISS IS THE SUBTLE DARKER NOTES OF MOZART WHICH ARE OFTEN THE MOST BEAUTIFUL. AND I THINK THIS SET REALLY DOES JUSTICE TO BOTH SIDES OF HIS PERSONALITY; BECAUSE INSTANTLY I RECOGNISED THE POIGNANCY OF THE MOVEMENTS WHICH EXPRESS DOUBT OR TROUBLE- HERE THEY ARE PAINTED EVER SO WELL. THUS THE BALANCED PORTRAIT OF MOZART'S MUSIC IS A RARE OCCURRENCE AND THIS COLLECTION HAVE APPARENTLY UNDERSTOOD THE COMPOSER WHOLEHEARTEDLY.

VIENNESE CHARM JUST OOZES FROM THE EFFORTS OF THE PERFORMERS AND CONCERTOS LIKE 491 OFFER A TASTE OF JUST HOW MOZART DESCRIBED HANDEL, THAT IS, 'WHEN HE CHOOSES, HE STRIKES LIKE LIGHTENING' AND ON SUCH OCCASIONS THE FIREWORKS REALLY BLIND! THE IMPERIAL MARCH OF AUSTRIA THEN COMES TO LIFE AND WE CAN WITNESS MOZART'S MUSIC ELEVATED TO RARE HEIGHTS. IN FACT THE GENERAL TONE OF THESE PIECES IS SO SUBLIME THAT THE IMAGES MY MIND SEES WHEN LISTENING TO THEM FREQUENTLY APPROACH SOMETHING LIKE THE ELIXIR OF LIFE; IT IS A FINELY REALISED FEELING OF CONTENTMENT AND COMFORT, A HEAVENLY SOUND!

MOZART WROTE: 'THESE CONCERTOS ARE A HAPPY MEDIUM BETWEEN WHAT IS TOO EASY AND WHAT IS TOO DIFFICULT; THEY ARE VERY BRILLIANT AND PLEASING TO THE EAR, AND NATURAL WITHOUT BEING VAPID. THERE ARE PASSAGES HERE AND THERE WHICH CONNOISSEURS ALONE WITH DERIVE SATISFACTION, BUT THOSE PASSAGES ARE WRITTEN IN SUCH A WAY THAT THE LESS LEARNED CANNOT FAIL TO BE PLEASED, THOUGH WITHOUT KNOWING WHY'. IT IS A JUST CONCLUSION TO REMARK THAT KAROLAK AND SOFRONITSKY HAVE ACHIEVED MOZART'S DESIRE.A JOY FROM START TO FINISH
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on 24 April 2016
I already have this set but I liked it so much I bought it for my friend who is a music aficionado.
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on 15 July 2012
Superlatives all over? If my view is based on disagreement just for disagreements sake, or not, or biased by the some dozen+ or so cycles of Mozart Pno Cti I have heard I cannot say; polished, maybe technically OK but lacking the quality that makes the music sing and engage. I've playd the discs through and through and at the darkest moments I just could't remember any expression worth mentioning. Maybe these concertos should be played expressiveless (or with somewhat forced expression), precise (with some exceptions for the winds obviously) with strings like it was programmed as a midi-file, but I think not. It's a kind of wound-up encyclopaedic cycle, and not the "Entdeckungsreise" a full Mozart cycle ought to be, something to experience anew with (almost) every session, even though the music is so familiar. I won't scrap these readings/recordings, but I'd stick to Gardiner/Bilson, or Immerseel, and maybe even Sconderwoerds rather ... strange? series to-be when it comes to period practices; Kirschnereit, Brendel or Perahia or even an "youthful oldie" like Anda. It's not completely garbage, mind, but it just lacks that something, in MY opinion.
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on 16 August 2014
"A King has his reign and then he dies." To date, which monarch has been the most durable? According to Egyptologists, Pepi II Neferkare of the Sixth Dynasty was Pharaoh for ninety four years - and his longevity contributed to the collapse of the Old Kingdom itself. As an Australian monarchist, I happily say "Long Live Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II" but alas she will not supplant Pharaoh. There is however a ruler in another domain who has the stamina to do so: Edwin Fischer in Mozart's Piano Concertos. Time has so elapsed - his first recording dates from the mid-Thirties - and yet the "strength and softness of the lion's velvet paws" have yet to abate. While it is a travesty that Fischer did not record the entire corpus, he is sovereign in K 453, K 466, K 482, K 491 & K 503. Enthroned in glory, his excellence "covers the field" notwithstanding the claims of Gilels in K 595 and Uchida (ECO) in K 488.

What of this cycle by Viviana Sofronitsky, ably accompanied by Tadeusz Karolak and his Polish ensemble? Does it have the wherewithal to overthrow King Edwin?

I think not. While this cycle unhorses the Pale Riders Mozart: The Piano Concertos, it fails to usurp the throne. Nevertheless, it is listenable.

Sofronitsky is a natural Mozartian even if drama is not her forte. She is alive to Mozart's kaleidoscopic mood-shifts and ambiguity. Her fortepiano "punches above its weight" to holds its own against the orchestra. Many of the performances are characterful even if not one of them resonates thereafter. Nor is Mozart's maturation ignored: K 175 is rightly played in a different manner than the late concertos. The Musica Antiqua Collegium Varsoviense is near-vibrato-less but in the absence of clipped phrasing - O Joy and Rapture Unforeseen - why complain? Its strings have projection even when the timpani and brass roar into life. I can understand why Mozart loathed the flute of his times: it sounds so washed out here; the bassoon also buzzes around like a blowfly (the slightly resonant nature of the recording does not assist the former nor the horns in general). Tempos are sensible throughout.

So where does Sofronitsky fall short? The Adagio of K 482 is a stupendous act of creation. Much the same could be said of its F Sharp Minor equivalent in K 488. The Russian virtuoso has the measure of the music. Each movement is sharply characterised. The depths are plumbed to full fathom five and beyond. And yet much like the 1933 British Expedition to Everest where an apparition appeared to two of the climbers during the failed ascent - and it was surely the ghost of Mallory - the spectres of King Edwin and Uchida likewise materialise to remind the listener that these performances have been trumped elsewhere.

And geez: K 456 is so damned ordinary as a performance.

So by all means purchase this box-set. It's good enough. But long live the King!

Mozart Piano Concertos: The Complete 78rpm Studio Recordings 1933-47

Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 22 & 25, K. 482, 503
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