Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 12 and 17 (CD review)

Alfred Brendel, piano; Sir Charles Mackerras, Scottish Chamber Orchestra.  Philips B0006594-02.

This title is virtually self-recommending. You've got one of the world's preeminent pianists, Alfred Brendel, performing with one of the world's preeminent Mozartians, Sir Charles Mackerras, leading the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. What's not to like?

Some critics have complained over the years about Brendel sometimes being overly fussy, overly intellectual in his music making, but here he seems almost completely at home.  He remains a wondrous musician, yet he keeps surprising us with the delicacy of his touch and the seeming spontaneity of his gestures, pauses, and nuances.

I confess to a greater delight in Mozart's Concerto No. 17 than in No. 12, so let me just mention a few of its pleasures. The opening is almost magical, and Brendel makes the most of it, charming us with its lush yet spirited Romanticism. In the second, slow movement, Brendel does seem a tad self conscious, almost as though he's sometimes stopping to admire his own work; but it comes off dreamily enough. And the Finale points to Papageno's song in The Magic Flute of a few years later, so we know perhaps from where Mozart got his later inspiration. Like the rest of the work, the Finale is both attractive and winsome.

It's always nice to see Philips issuing discs, as they were still doing when they released this Mozart recording in 2006; they seem to do so little of it lately compared to the old days. They haven't changed their overall sound much, either, the 2004 recording being big and warm. It's not always a model of utmost transparency, however, so don't expect a lot of inner detailing. In fact, it's somewhat overblown in the orchestral department, the Scottish Chamber ensemble sounding bigger than it probably is, due to plentiful room resonances. Nevertheless, the piano sounds very lifelike, and it's here you'll want to spend most of your time.

Incidentally, it's also almost like old times seeing Brendel's face on the booklet cover, something of a tradition with Brendel and Philips for decades.


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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