Piano Concerto No.12 in A, K414
Piano Concerto No.17 in G, K453
Alfred Brendel (piano)
Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Sir Charles Mackerras
Recorded between 5-11 August 2004 in the Usher Hall, Edinburgh
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: March 2006
CD No: PHILIPS 475 6930
Duration: 56 minutes
The fourth in a sequence of Mozart concerto recordings from this combination, and mooted to be the last. If this really marks the end of the line it would be an enormous pity. Although Mozart piano concerto recordings are hardly in short supply – and Alfred Brendel has recorded these works before, of course – these new versions are altogether special: not only because they document what must surely be the full flowering of Brendel’s thoughts on this evergreen music, but because of his partnership with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Sir Charles Mackerras, which is arguably the world’s leading Mozartian combination.
It is sometimes said that Mozart’s piano concertos are operas in miniature. Mackerras and the SCO have recorded a particularly fine series of Mozart operas over the last decade and they bring to these concertos a very operatic pathos – the orchestral introduction to the G major’s Andante has all the plangency and ardour of “Porgi amor”. Seldom too has there been a clearer illustration of the benefit of having a real conductor in this repertoire. There have been fine recordings directed from the keyboard – Anda, Barenboim and Perahia easily spring to mind – but what added potency there is when two great Mozartians, clearly of like mind, join forces.
Despite its affable nature, the ‘little’ A major concerto (K414) can seem bland in some hands. Under Mackerras though its orchestral introduction is deliciously airborne, an object lesson in how to pace and characterise and with close attention given to dynamics and inner parts. When Brendel enters there is the rare sense of give and take, of chamber music, in the interplay between pianist and orchestra. In the Handelian slow movement, with its echo of the “straight places plain”, Brendel times his first entry perfectly, holding back for just a fraction of a second; to a remarkable degree this movement becomes a perfectly poised operatic duet for piano and orchestra; and deeply poignant, too. The good-natured finale, taken quite swiftly, chuckles infectiously, with Brendel and Mackerras finding a degree of detail that simply eludes most other performers. I know of no more complete exploration of this concerto on record.
All the same virtues are replicated in the altogether grander and richer sounds of the G major work, which is one of Mozart’s first concertos to fully exploit the concertante potential of wind instruments. Without ever overstepping the bounds of style, pianist and conductor bring a remarkable freedom and certainty of touch to this concerto, strong and intense where appropriate, full of gravitas in the slow movement and with a Papageno-like sense of fun in the cunningly paced finale, which is a tad slower than usual … that is until the presto final bars, which are despatched with a combination of wit, elan and wisdom that is quintessential Brendel.
The recording quality is exemplary.