on 24 July 2012
This is a 12-CD box set of Mozart's complete piano concertos, played and directed by Perahia, repackaged this year. I already had several CDs of "late" concertos played by the pianist, but I'm glad I now have these re-mastered complete versions.
Perahia plays with unforced freshness and naturalness. All the notes flow beautifully, with little exaggeration or self-consciousness. He sometimes plays slow movements rather delicately - for instance, in Nos. 24 and 27; I think his style suits Mozart's composition, although some listeners may prefer to listen to them being played a little more extrovertly. The earlier works (Nos. 1 to 14) - which I had never listened to before - are charming. Later works - particularly Nos. 21 and 23 - are most beautifully performed.
Concerto No. 7 for 3 Pianos (K.242) is played in an arranged version for 2 pianos, apparently done by the composer himself. In both No. 7 and No. 10 (K.365 for 2 pianos), Perahia is joined by Radu Lupu.
I have always enjoyed listening to recordings by Geza Anda, Ashkenazy, Brendel (earlier ones), and Uchida, among others. But, I find Perahia's recordings outstanding: they will be among my "desert island discs" as for one of the earlier reviewers.
The recordings were made in both analogue and digital formats. The re-mastered sound is very good. This complete set - despite the unusual version of No. 7 - offers a fantastic value for money, costing only about £1.60 for each disc. There is no booklet included, but no-one will require it when music speaks for itself.
on 26 December 2013
Perahia was not fortunate enough to have the best recorded sound at his disposal. His recordings, being very good, cannot compare to Uchida flying on the wings of Philips.
It matters, because Uchida's velvety tone was duly registered, as was her left hand, as were the strings' and wind's gorgeous colours of the ECO. Uchida's recordings have matured extremely well and can be listened to today, 25 years after the takes, without any need of remastering, contrary to Perahia's, where even the 24-bit work has been unable to lift up the sound much.
Perahia sounds forceful and even percussive, his left hand barely audible at times. Banging all the way, it's difficult to find a pianissimo in his accounts. I believe that, being a first-rate pianist, he simply was let down by the recording engineers. Sony hasn't been a first-rate recording outfit since the 50s,those glorious days of her predecessors, CBS and RCA.
Uchida's first editions are still on the used market at outrageous prices. Grab them, and enjoy the riveting Philips sound that does such a favour to Mozart's masterpieces.
This set of discs has been in many collections ever since they were originally issued and have established themselves as performances of choice even in the light of other fine recordings by Uchida, Imogen Cooper and several other fine pianists.
They have always seemed to to offer perfectly attuned readings in terms of period, balance between piano and orchestra, pacing, dynamics and numerous other similar details. There is not one performance that disappoints as far as performances is concerned.
However, the recordings were made some time ago and they did not all offer the same level of recorded excellence with some discs being clearly somewhat thin on string tone. Generally I do not buy re-mastered discs on the basis of sheer cost in terms of a complete collection but I have nevertheless bought a number of re-mastered discs from Sony and they have all been worth the investment.
In this case, the coupling of masterful performances, the promise of improved re-mastering and the remarkably low price being asked for these wonderful performances was irresistible. I am delighted to report that in every case the re-mastering has been a total success with much improved tonal range throughout and a marked improvement in the string tone in the worst original cases. The set now has a unity of recorded sound that was not true of the original discs.
This is a case of the very best becoming even better as a result of advances in re-mastering and at a remarkably low price. The sleeve notes, which were never very impressive, have now disappeared altogether but I personally have solved this minor issue by keeping the original sleeves inside the new, fairly spacious box. Information about these concertos is readily available on the web for those who wish to know more. What we have reviewed here is a concentration purely on the recordings and they are outstandingly successful.
I would suggest that, given the excellence of the performances and recordings of these concertos and especially at the current asking price, this set warrants the most serious consideration from future purchasers either as an 'only' purchase or as part of a bigger collection of multiple versions.
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on 26 June 2016
To my ear Perahia and the English Chamber Orchestra (ECO) provide an extraordinarily beautiful interpretation of the Mozart Piano Concertos in this 2012, 24-bit remastering of Perahia’s performances from the 1970s and 1980s. If I had to pick one box set this would be it but as a Gramophone article put it some years back, many Mozart Piano Concerto cycles have been issued and there is no shortage of superb performances. While this is my favorite cycle I’ll mention two others I consider marvelous: Ashkenazy with the Philharmonia Orchestra on a 1995 London Analogue to Digital Remastering and Brendel with Marriner/Academy of St Martin in the Fields on a 2009 Decca Remastering (10 CD Set: 480-2599) of performances from the 1970s and 1980s. I’m not persuaded that a “remastering” always means better sound – but in these two cases the sound is superb and the performances magnificent.
As of June, 2016, there are almost 80 reviews of this set, most extremely positive. Thus add the following:
1. While this box set is not an SACD set and SACD players are not cheap, if you greatly enjoy and listen to a lot of music recommend investing in a good SACD player. Prices range from $300 to $5,000 and up. I must watch my budget but as music is a top priority I paid approximately $1,000 for a Marantz SA8005 SACD player after doing a lot of comparison shopping and find it worth every penny. In terms of marginal value for someone who wanted an SACD player solely to play SACDs and CDs, I found the higher priced models could not come close to providing value for the extra money – and I probably could not have afforded them anyway. While there are a few exceptions, likely due to poor recording, a difficult venue acoustically, etc., SACDs generally offer significant audible improvement in clarity and detail. In addition, I now hear detail in my regular CDs that I had not heard before. While 24-bit remasterings are not as much of an upgrade as SACDs, they generally are a significant improvement over regular CDs and that is particularly the case with this 24-bit remastered set these Perahia/ECO performances originally released on Columbia Masterworks LPs and CDs. That triggers the question how do the newer performances on SACD compare with this set. I have some, but not all, of the individual SACD recordings from two series: Christian Zacharias/Orchestre De Chambre de Lausanne and Ronald Brautigam (with fortepiano)/Kölner Akademie. The additional clarity and detail on these SACDs is a plus but given the excellent quality of this Perahia Box Set (as well as the Brendel and Ashkenazy sets mentioned above) the marginal improvement is less than it will be when comparing many other non-SACDs to SACDs. One must then compare the performances. While the Zacharias and Brautigam performances are thoroughly enjoyable, and are worthy of being added to a collection of one who can afford to have five or more versions of one or more of these concertos, I find the Perahia, Brendel and Ashkenazy performances preferable to the extent that if I was only going to have one or two recordings I’d select the one or two from the Perahia, Brendel and Ashkenazy sets. Moreover, from at least some of Amazon’s partners one can currently get this Perahia and the Brendel box set for less than $30. That said, I found Zacharias’ performance of the 21st and 23rd to be magnificent – as enjoyable as any of the performances in the three box sets -- and also found Brautigam’s performance of the 24th to stand by itself – being as enjoyable as any in the box sets. Brautigam’s 24th comes with the 25th while Zacharias’ 21st comes with the 14th and 15th and his 23rd comes with the 5th and 8th.
2. Speaking of SACDs I’m only aware of one Perahia Mozart Piano Concerto SACD -- a Sony release containing the 20th and 27th. That SACD is magnificent but also very expensive. Also, unlike many SACDs on the market today, it will only play on an SACD player.
3. Many of the existing reviews provide very interesting information and perspectives. One I particularly agree with is “the balance between piano and orchestra is definitely weighted toward the soloist (but) nonetheless the contributions of both the English Chamber Orchestra and Perahia are ideal.” My bias is to have the soloist stand out – at least to some extent – that is at least arguably why concertos are called piano (or violin, trumpet, cello, etc.) concertos. In this context I note that a work by another composer I particularly enjoy is Brahms’ Violin Concerto. Julia Fischer has superb performances of the Mozart violin concertos on PentaTone SACDs but her performance of the Brahms violin concerto on PantaTone’s SACD is disappointing (to me at least) because, especially in the third movement, her violin playing almost seems to be in the background. However, if a listener prefers that the soloist not stand out from the rest of the orchestra this is a factor to consider in whether to purchase this box set.
4. Numerous reviewers compare this set to Brendel’s, some liking both, others finding Brendel’s notably superior. As mentioned I find both magnificent. I am not a musician and have no musical training. I listen to music for sheer enjoyment. While I hear differences – sometimes pronounced – between Perahia and Brendel, I noticed the following from two separate, very thoughtful, reviews: one notes that “while “Perahia’s playing is beautiful, his stylization is intrusive, overwhelming the nearly infinite subtlety of the Mozart concertos,” while Brendel is “much more cerebral, dryer, somewhat abstract.” The other reviewer comments “Perahia is all about tone, keeping it perfect – some may find this all the same or boring but when played as well as Perahia plays one can never have too much” but “still, if you are looking for a little more interpretation to jazz up the recordings Brendel’s set may be for you.” These are just snippets from two very informative and thoughtful reviews and I quote them only to illustrate how different listeners can perceive different performances. To me, both box sets are marvelous.
5. This 24-bit remastered set was issued in 2012. Its identifying information is 8-86919-14112-2 (on box set)/ASIN: B006XOBFB0. However, many of the reviews (on US Amazon’s site) date from before 2012 with the earliest review dated 30 August 2006. The Amazon UK site shows, as of June, 2016, both this (2012) box set and a 2006 box set with the following identifying information: 8-28768-72302-9 (on box set)/ASIN: B000GLKLCK. The picture of the 2006 box set shows that it is a Direct Stream Digital (DSD) remastering. Unfortunately I do not know what the distinguishing characteristics are between a DSD and 24-bit remastering – if anyone knows I – and I expect others – would greatly appreciate being informed. To add to my confusion I’ve noticed that most or all of my SACDs also state that they are “DSD” – but the 2006 box set does not indicate that it is also an SACD – and in fact there is no indication on the box or in the Amazon information that it is an SACD box set. As the first review of the 2012 24-bit remastered set is dated from 2006, it seems that on the US site at least Amazon may have merged the comments about these two box sets so they are shown together under the 2012 24-bit remastered box set. I noted that one
reviewer questioned numerous other reviewers if they knew if there was any difference between this 2012 24-bit remastered box set and the 2006 box set of Perahia remasterings; I don’t believe that question was answered, the answer appears to be 24-bit vs. DSD remasterings but unfortunately I cannot explain what the audible difference between the two remasterings is likely to be.
6. Some of the early reviewers commented about the unevenness – apparently at certain isolated points – of the remasterings which resulted in the tone of the orchestra jumping – “biting one’s ears off” as one reviewer put it. Many other reviewers found the remasterings to be excellent. I find the 24-bit remasterings to be excellent but add that although I have a reasonably elaborate system (KEF Reference speakers, etc.) I have always lived in an apartment and thus – if 6:00 is no sound, moving clockwise I rarely go beyond 9:00. Thus, if this is something that arises at higher volumes it is something I will likely never encounter – and that may hold true for other listeners who live in an apartment complex with neighbors. In addition, as these comments about occasional unevenness appear on the early reviews, it is possible that is an issue with the DSD remasterings but not the 24-bit remasterings.
Overall, I add my voice to the chorus singing the highest praise for this box set.