I don't think this series of three discs by Mitsuko Uchida and the ECO can be bettered. I have enthused about her Complete Mozart Piano Sonatas and the Concerti are just as good. Uchida has a real empathy with Mozart, I think, and you get the sense of love and joy in the music combined with magnificent musicianship.
She is crisp and sensitive in the quicker outer movements and has the power when needed to play as the orchestra's equal. In the slow movements Uchida's beautiful tone is a joy and she judges the mood perfectly, making them truly beautiful without a hint of sentimentality or Mozartkugel-flavoured kitsch. This is not easy in such over-exposed movements as the Andante of K467, for example, but she is absolutely exemplary in her empathy and restraint.
The English Chamber Orchestra are ideal in this repertoire. It is no coincidence that both Uchida and the great Murray Perahia chose them for their Mozart recordings. The orchestra - here under Jeffrey Tate - are vigorous, supple and responsive and again avoid any intrusion of the saccharine nonsense which mars some Mozart performances. You can almost hear the collective grins of the orchestra during some of Mozart's more outrageous show-off finales, and there is a fabulous understanding between them and Uchida who worked with the ECO a lot.
It seems to me that the only close competitor to this series is Murray Perahia's Complete Mozart Piano Concerti (also with the ECO) which are equally good, but weigh in at well over £60. And it's worth saying that on Radio 3's Building A Library, the reviewer said that he couldn't imagine even Mozart playing Mozart more beautifully than Murray Perahia, but still chose Uchida's recording of the Jeunehomme Concerto (K271, on Volume 3) as the best available. I'm not arguing with either part of that. In fact I've ended up with both Perahia and Uchida's sets and love both, but at budget price you simply can't go wrong with the Uchida set.
If you're undecided, I suggest you buy Volume 1, and I bet you'll only have to listen to the drama of the opening Allegro of K466 and the sheer beauty of its second movement Romance before wanting to order the other two.
The only minor drawback of these recordings is that the packaging looks rather cheap and the notes are sketchy, but the music more than compensates.
Mitsuko Uchida is, in my view anyway, one of the truly great Mozart players of our generation, and this is her at her magnificent best. Recommended without reservation.
There's something about Uchida's playing that no other pianist can emulate when it comes to Mozart. It simply takes my breath away. This selection is worth buying for number 24 alone, but then I have to confess to it having a special place for me as I heard Mitsuko Uchida playing (and directing) it live with the ECO in the mid 80's on the South Bank and it rates as one of the most special concerts ever for me.
I agree with another reviewer that I would be very happy with the Perahia recordings; in fact he was my favourite Mozart interpreter - at least before Uchida came along. Perahia's technique is probably better but Uchida has that undefinable quality that makes music really special.
This pair of discs, very well and naturally recorded between 1988-1991, is one of a group of such pairs which together encompass the 'great' piano concertos of Mozart played by this team. Both Uchida and Perahia in his total survey are partnered by the excellent English Chamber orchestra, the main difference being that Perahia leads them himself and Uchida has the attentive presence of Jeffrey Tate as the totally sympathetic conductor.
Both soloists play with impeccable taste and style which falls absolutely within the remit of the Classical period even though Uchida and Tate make use of increased expressive rubato and phrasing in the final concerto that gives a nod towards the approaching Romantic period.
There are differences in touch and phrasing between the two pianists that are worth considering. In general I think it is fair to say that Perahia brings a slightly more forceful tone to bear throughout whereas Uchida has a more rounded, gentler touch which gives a warmer feel. Perahia is slightly crisper in his articulation and Uchida is a touch more legato. These are very tiny differences and should not be exaggerated as these players are really providing very similar interpretations, just different sides of the same coin.
The presence of Tate as a conductor on this set is another significant difference as he ensures a greater degree of dialogue between the soloist and the orchestra and generally the orchestral contribution is more involving. This is not so much accompanying as partnering.
Without wishing to be in any way trite or controversial, I would be tempted say that the difference is a gender one - that of a masculine and feminine approach to the same viewpoint. It is as small but as noticeable as that. Tate is an advantage in so far as he enables the interplay of orchestral dialogue to be that little more interactive with the piano. This is a matter of balance that is easier for a conductor to encourage than the soloist who must, by definition, be otherwise engaged a great deal of the time.
In my disc collection I have both Perahia and Uchida as equal reference sets with various other contributions of note represented by the likes of Curzon, Imogen Cooper and Anderszewski. This is a personal choice of interpretive balance and as such I would avoid making choices between Perahia and Uchida whom I view as equals in terms of musical satisfaction.
In conclusion therefore, I would strongly suggest that these recordings by Uchida deserve to be considered with the very best when it comes to potential choices for purchase. It is worth noting that there is a presentational snag that may bother some more than others as follows: in order to fit all these concertos onto two discs the 16th concerto is split between the two discs after the first movement.
As someone not too keen on piano music - too often prone to sef indulgent brooding or ill tempered histrionics - I have only ever felt comfortable with Mozart's piano concertos because for him the piano was, perhaps, the most immediate and intimate way to convey some of his greatest musical inspirations. Mitsuko Uchida, Jeffrey Tate and The English Chamber Orchestra, in all three volumes of The Great Piano Concertos, deliver some of the most breathtakingly beautiful music that I, for one, have heard in a long time. The piano and orchestra are lively, sensitive and, almost playfully at times, in complete agreement with each other. Mozart knew a good tune and, when he got one, he'd turn it into another one and then, just when you thought it couldn't get any better, he'd top it all with something to leave you astonished that someone could create such exquisite music. Just listen to the third movement of concerto number 27, for example but, to be honest, listen to all three volumes of these concertos and you will have dozens of melodies swirling round your mind and enriching your life forever.