Daniel Barenboim, piano; Rafael Kubelik, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. BR Klassik 900709.
My earliest recollection of Barenboim performing Mozart was his 1968-71 recordings of the late Mozart symphonies on EMI with the English Chamber Orchestra. For their spark and imagination, I thought at the time they were the best all-around performances of the symphonies I had heard, and I continue to prize them highly. So it was with a good deal of eager anticipation that I listened to these Mozart piano concertos recorded around the same time, 1970, that he conducted the symphonies, with Barenboim this time on piano and Rafael Kubelik leading the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. Surprisingly, the folks at BR Klassik are releasing the performances now for the very first time, but better late than never, I suppose; they did not disappoint me in any way.
Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat major, KV 482 is an analogue studio recording sounding better than almost anything you'll find today. The interpretation is wonderfully dynamic under Kubelik, he and his orchestra are perfect accompanists for Barenboim, whose playing is lively and fresh, just as his symphony recordings of the same era were. The opening Allegro is joyous, despite quick tempos the music never seeming hurried, followed by a slow middle movement, with feelings of longing and loneliness as effective and affecting as anyone could ask. Then Mozart changes the mood entirely with a bouncy, catchy final Allegro, which, nevertheless, Barenboim manages to merge seamlessly with the wistful preceding passages, making a well-knit whole that is maybe the best I've ever heard in this work.
Concerto No. 23 in A major, KV 488 is a live recording, also from 1970. The booklet note tells us that No. 23 was the very first Mozart concerto Barenboim ever played--at the age of eight! I guess you could say he knew it pretty well. No. 23 has a more mellow, mature quality to it than No. 22, with a more melancholy slow movement, and the pianist, conductor, and orchestra bring to it great intensity and emotional thrust, yet without any sense of the melodramatic. Although Barenboim and Kubelik make both pieces highly personal, they keep their own emotions from intruding on the music, letting Mozart speak for himself.
Moreover, the excellence of the sound complements the brilliance of the performances, especially in the studio recording. There is great presence here, with a big, grand, natural, you-are-there realism that doesn't sacrifice its concert-hall warmth and ambience. You'll find these recordings clean, translucent, and dynamic, the sonics as vibrant and engaging as the music.
It's a splendid album from every angle, an absolute delight, and a complete mystery why it sat waiting forty years for somebody to release it. These concertos are little gems, and under Barenboim and company they sparkle.
About the Author
I've been listening to classical music most of my life, starting with the classical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first classical recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor. Today, I'm retired from teaching and using a pair of VMPS RM40s. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (moviemet.com, formerly DVDTOWN) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.
When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.
So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.
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