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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sets a new standard in period performance for Mozart concertos, 12 Oct. 2011
This review is from: Mozart: Complete FortePiano Concertos (Audio CD)
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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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 24 Feb 2013 20:40:04 GMT
enthusiast says:
A comparison with van Immerseel's and Bilson's sets doesn't say that much to me as both were (for one reason or another) not especially successful. How does it compare with great performances more generally? Is it as good as those of Goode, Perahia, Uchida or Brautigam? If not then there is no revelation!

In reply to an earlier post on 24 Feb 2013 23:40:51 GMT
Brautigam has recorded all the Mozart concertos? There is no point in comparing the others, which are on piano and performed traditionally, not in period performance style. In other words, the pianism is crystalline, the orchestras string-dominated, the woodwinds recessed and used for color only. Personally, I think anyone that believes Uchida and Goode are "great performances" are certainly going to dislike this set.
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Location: Mason Michigan USA

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