Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 22 & 23 (CD review)

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.


1 comment:

  1. You're absolutely right - better late than never. I never even knew about this recording, but it sounds like it's worth looking into. Thanks!


Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

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. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa