Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 21 and 22 (CD review)

Christian Ihle Hadland, piano; Arvid Engegard, Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra. Simax Classics PSC 1323.

It seems as though new recordings of one or another Mozart piano concerto come out daily. Maybe it’s because Mozart wrote so many of piano concertos (twenty-seven in all), and people continue to like them (well, at least the last dozen or so). Or maybe it’s because pianists and conductors find so many ways to approach them (modern instruments and style, period instruments and practice, full and chamber orchestras, etc.). Who knows.  In any case, modern listeners already have a multitude of good recordings among which to choose, and I don’t suppose it hurts to have a new batch of contenders appear regularly (so long as listeners are not buying each and every one of them with money they may not have). With this Simax recording, we find Norwegian pianist Christian Ihle Hadland tackling Mozart’s Piano Concertos 21 and 22, a daunting task because they’re a couple of warhorses recorded many times over. Hadland comes through relatively unscathed.

Until I received this disc, I had never heard Hadland play the piano. He is, indeed, a sensitive, gifted musician. Whether he surpasses so many other pianists in this recorded repertoire, only the individual listener can determine. There are, after all, a number of fine pianists to consider, people like Stephen Kovacevich, Kristian Bezuidenhout, Daniel Barenboim, Murray Perahia, and a boatload of others.  Nevertheless, Hadland deserves his shot.

The album starts with the Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major, K. 467. Because the filmmakers of a popular 1967 Swedish film titled Elvira Madigan used the second movement of No. 21 throughout their movie, people have since referred to the concerto as “Elvira Madigan.” Given Mozart’s penchant for theatricality, I’m sure it would please him.

Hadland handles the outer movements of No. 21 with a fine dexterity, and his playing exudes a joyful spontaneity. It’s that famous Andante that that bothers me. You can hear a snippet of it below. It seems to move along too quickly, without as much sentiment or feeling as other pianists have found in it, as though Hadland were saying, “You’ve heard all this before so often I thought I’d just get it out of the way as fast as possible.” It loses some of its dreamy, ethereal flavor in the process. This is not, however, to suggest Hadland doesn’t demonstrate some lovely, delicate technique or that the performance is without charm. The performance strikes one as quite spirited, in fact, and leaves one uplifted at the end.

Mozart completed the Piano Concerto No. 22 in E flat Major, K. 482 in 1785, shortly after writing No. 21. Therefore, expect some obvious similarities. Two major differences, though, are the composer’s use of clarinets in No. 22 and later a final-movement Allegro with a theme from his Horn Concerto No. 3.

In No. 22, I still had memories of the Bezuidenhout recording with the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra lingering fresh in mind, Bezuidenhout’s recording being one I’ve become quite fond of. So Hadland’s newer rendering maybe had a little too much to live up to. Nevertheless, Bezuidenhout plays it on a fortepiano and Hadland on a modern piano, so any serious comparisons are inappropriate in any case. Hadland plays No. 22 with the same gusto we hear in No. 21, and while that part of the proceedings goes delightfully, it’s again the slow movement that gave me pause. Hadland seems so determined not to sentimentalize it that he sort of squeezes some of the breath out of it. Fortunately, the music has enough dramatic, operatic character to it that it survives pleasingly enough. Then there’s Mozart’s fetching “hunting” theme to conclude the work, Hadland treating it with high good humor.

Simax recorded the pianist and orchestra at the Oslo Konserthus in 2011, and while the sound may not aspire to audiophile standards, it’s pleasant enough. It displays a wide stereo spread, with reasonable depth and dynamics, yet there’s a warm, ambient glow to remind us of a realistic venue and not a dry studio. Midrange transparency is only average, and the piano looms rather large, appearing a bit too broad to sound entirely lifelike. Still, the piano, like the rest of the sound, communicates a sweet, if slightly soft, tone that is easy on the ear.

To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


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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 of The $ensible Sound magazine 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.

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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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa