Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 22 & 25 (CD review)

David Fray, piano; Jaap van Zweden, Philharmonia Orchestra. Virgin Classics 50999 641964 0 4.

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.


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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.

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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