Most helpful critical review
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What might have been
on 5 September 2013
The positives are plentiful and obvious: these are performances of immense sophistication and dedication, with Perahia genuinely working with the ECO to secure playing in which orchestra and soloist are at one. (I say this because many soloist 'conductors' merely look up from time to time to acknowledge a performance that is actually directed by the leader, who is rarely credited on the CD or LP cover.) However, the recordings do not do the music-making anything like justice. For a taste of what might have been, listen to K271 (No 9, 'Jeunehomme'). The recording was made at 'EMI Studios', presumably Abbey Road No 1, in 1976. The piano and orchestra sound to be in the same acoustic space and there is sufficient microphone distance to allow the phrasing and dynamics to bloom, even if the sound is overlit. By contrast, hear the first disc of K39-40. Rosslyn Hill Chapel, London, 1984 is the venue, and there's plenty of pleasant, churchlike echo round the strings. But the first piano entry takes you to a completely different acoustic environment. The microphones have clearly been shoved right under the piano lid, and then electronic reverb has been added to try to make a match. Unsuccessfully. On a large number of these recordings a combination of close miking and fake reverb has produced a lack of focus between soloist and orchestra and overbright, frosty-to-shrill violin tone. Worst of all are the two-piano concertos with Radu Lupu, supposedly recorded in the Maltings, Snape, but carrying no audible evidence of that warmly resonant room. The pianos are split widely across the sound stage and their tinny rattle resembles the old schoolboy prank of putting drawing pins into the felt of the hammers. To compound matters, throughout most of the set a treble spike has been applied to the sound at some point, either at the original taping or the remastering. If the former, surely it could have been reversed for this reissue? From other reviews I understand that previous issues have been even worse. I have a high tolerance for the shortcomings of vintage recordings, but wilful manipulation of stereo sound by engineers and producers is a different matter. I want to feel my ears are in one place in the concert hall, not several at once. Well, I thought that should be said, but if you can put up with such technical tomfoolery this is certainly a bargain way to hear all the concertos played very well indeed. And I'm conscious that many listeners put up with bright, artificial sound in the LP age and may well be content with it today.