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