Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 22 & 25 (CD review)
French pianist David Fray is one of those fellows who looks a lot younger than his age, so don't be put off by his youthful appearance on the disc's cover photo. He was actually around thirty when he made these recordings. More to the point, I had never heard the man play until now, and I was curious about his attitudes and abilities. Even though his Mozart interpretations did not overwhelm me, I could readily understand his intentions, and there is no doubting his artistic skills.
Fray begins with Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 22, K.482 (1785). Here, we see Mozart in an amusingly lighthearted yet lyrical mood, much of which Fray conveys handily (he's quite virtuosic). However, it's when one compares his performance to those of Daniel Barenboim (BR Klassik) or Murray Perahia (Sony) that one notices a slight lack of spark, geniality, or joy from Fray. I don't hear the same playfulness or vitality in Fray's playing that I do in the other artists, although I have to admit that the Virgin engineers recorded Fray marginally better. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with Fray's interpretation per se, except that it is a little straightlaced.
Then it's on to the Piano Concerto No. 25, K.503 (1786), where Fray seems to me more successful than in No. 22. The piece is more dramatic, and Fray communicates its operatic theatricality most clearly. One can hear fairly easily the connections to the composer's Die Zauberflote, which he wrote a few years later, with Fray doing his best to play up those ties. The concerto's Andante exhibits an appropriate dignity, but the concluding Allegretto is a tad too sober for my taste while nevertheless voicing a pleasant sense of delicacy and passion throughout.
The Philharmonia, always one of London's most refined orchestras, provide able-bodied accompaniment under the guidance of Maestro Jaap van Zweden. Still, I found myself wishing the orchestral support had been a tad more spry and lively and a bit less refined or able-bodied.
Virgin recorded the music in Abbey Road Studios, London, in August of 2010. The sound is pleasantly reverberant, smooth, and well balanced. The engineers capture the piano in an almost ideal position relative to the orchestra, with just enough bloom on the instruments to simulate a live experience without the annoyances of an actual live performance. Dynamics and frequency range are adequate to the occasion, and overall definition is fine.
William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer
Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.
The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.