Mozart: Piano Concertos 25 & 27 (CD review)

Piotr Anderszewski, Chamber Orchestra of Europe. Warner Classics 0190295724221.

This Mozart album marks the third or fourth time I've reviewed something from Polish pianist and composer Piotr Anderszewski (b. 1969). As with the previous performances I've heard from him, the pianist appears technically brilliant, stylistically accomplished, and interpretively subdued. In other words, while he's pleasant enough to listen to, there may not be a lot that's particularly compelling enough about his interpretations to make listeners who already have favorites in the material turn to Anderszewski for anything new or different.

Anyway, Anderszewski begins the program with the Piano Concerto No. 25 in C major, K. 503, which Mozart wrote in 1786. Interestingly, in Mozart's lifetime it was not among his most-admired works and only gained prominence after his death. Today, music critics and audiences alike consider it one of his finest, most-mature works. Because of its symphonic overtones, the concerto is sometimes compared to the composer's "Jupiter" symphony, and one can see the resemblance in the concerto's long orchestral introduction alone.

When the piano enters, we hear immediately Anderszewski's bravura playing--articulate, smooth, flowing, and seemingly effortless. What we don't hear, however, is much explicative variation from the ordinary. The soloist is sensitive when necessary and exclamatory when needed, but not much more.  In other words, the performance is hard to fault on any technical grounds. Anderszewski provides everything Mozart intended except, perhaps, for heart. While it is not exactly a cold approach to the score, it is not one that a listener can easily fall in love with, either.

Piotr Anderszewski
I enjoyed the Andante a little more than the opening, and the pianist does inject a healthy dose of poetic sentiment into it. Again, though, there isn't much variety in the movement's conflicting moods, leaving the whole a little flat. Finally, we get to that festive frolic of an ending, which the pianist handles with characteristic frankness, if not exactly flair. It's all very proper and aboveboard.

Anderszewski follows No. 25 with Mozart's final piano concerto, No. 27 in B-flat major, K. 595, which premiered in the year of Mozart's death, 1791, but which Mozart may have written as early as 1788. The work is more strongly linked by internal themes than most of Mozart's other concertos, and it is more thinly scored, helping it to stand out among his many piano works. As with No. 25, No. 27 begins with a lengthy orchestral introduction.

No. 27 is a somewhat more tranquil work than No. 25, and Anderszewski handles it in an even more-moderate fashion than before. As always, his playing is precise, fluent, and fluid, and it's a bit more involving. Maybe it doesn't convey all the longing and despondency of some other renditions, but it does at least give us a glimpse into Mozart's troubled mind at the time of its composition. This is especially true of the mournful Larghetto. With Anderszewski, the movement is sweet without being cloying, a case in which the pianist's straightforwardness is an asset. In the final movement, Mozart alternates and blends a subdued joy and a hushed sadness, a combination that slightly eludes Anderszewski. Nevertheless, with such refined, if low-key, expression, his goals never appear in doubt.

So, as I said earlier, Anderszewski's performances are technically flawless but not exactly inspiring. If one already has a favored Mozart interpreter--say, Stephen Kovacevich, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Sir Clifford Curzon, Evgeny Kissin, or a host of others--there is probably little reason to acquire additional albums by Anderszewski. If, however, one is a fan of Anderszewski's moderately reserved approach to music making, the present performances will doubtless please one.

Producers Andrzej Sasin, Aleksandra Nagorka, and Alain Lanceron and engineers Rainer Maillard and Douglas Ward recorded the album in the Festpeilhaus, Baden Baden, Germany in July 2017. The sound they obtained is clear and clean, if a tad bright and forward. The piano is nicely integrated with the orchestra, well defined, yet not too close. Because of the relatively small, chamber-sized orchestra, we get a fairly dynamic and transparent overall sound, which should satisfy most discerning listeners.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:


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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 ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine 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.

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. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa