Mozart: Piano Concertos K. 453 & 467 (CD review)

Maurizio Pollini, piano; Vienna Philharmonic. DG 00289 477 5795.

The relentless procession of live recordings from major record companies marches on. Ostensibly, the companies will tell you they do it to capture the spirit of the moment, the excitement of the live event.  That's true, of course, but it's also a pretty good deal for them. Studio time can be expensive, especially when it involves a large symphony orchestra. So the company get an audience willing to pay high prices to listen to a concert, they tape the concert, and then they sell CDs of the concert for more high prices. The audience essentially underwrites the recording, and the recording companies can't lose.

Unfortunately, the buyers of the CDs lose a little something because they almost never get a recording that sounds as good as what might have been produced in a studio or in an empty hall. Here, we have the great pianist Maurizio Pollini playing two great Mozart concertos and conducting the great Vienna Philharmonic from the keyboard. It's a terrific combination except for the sound and the audience. DG engineers edited the performances from various concerts Pollini performed during May of 2005, and the background noise varies according to how quiet any given audience was at the time. So, we might hear a constant shuffling of feet during one movement or a wheezing during another or the turning of pages in another or what sounds like Pollini himself grunting or humming along with the music in several others. Then, at the very end, to ensure that we know it's a real live performance, we get an eruption of applause that pretty much destroys the mood of both works.

I'd say this is doubly unfortunate in the case of Pollini because he is one of the world's greatest living pianists, among the handful of best. And his Mozart is nothing short of brilliant, his playing the most fluid, the most graceful, the most effortless imaginable. I loved every musical moment of both concertos; I just didn't care for the nonmusical distractions. Well, at least DG had the good sense to record these things as close up as possible to minimize the audience noise, even if it tends to lessen the reality of the experience. Still, even the close-up miking didn't entirely help.

One other nonmusical distraction: Why must so many disc covers and booklet inserts constantly refer to musical compositions only by their catalogue numbers, these being K. 453 and K. 467, for instance? Do they expect all buyers and listeners to recognize concertos and symphonies by these catalogue numbers instead of their more-conventional chronological numbers? For those of you not familiar with the titles K. 453 and K. 467, they are also known as Concertos Nos. 17 and 21.  Ah, No. 21, you say?  Yes, that's the one with the familiar "Elvira Madigan" theme in the middle, isn't it?  You wouldn't know it by the way this disc is packaged.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first 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 use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

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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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa