The fact that not a month passes without a bushel of new Mozart releases is heartening. It indicates that civilization is not dead. That beauty lives, is appreciated--and, most important for its survival, that it sells.
Murray Perahia, who has been working his way through--and selling--the Mozart piano concertos for several years as both soloist and conductor (of the English Chamber Orchestra), finishes the job with four separate CBS discs.
First there is a coupling of two great concertos, the deep and often dark No. 23 in A, K. 488, and the lighter, but infinitely beguiling, No. 19 in F, K. 459 (IM 39064).
To these Perahia adds the facile and charming No. 6 and the Concerto No. 13 in C, K. 415 (IM 39223)--the latter full of fascinating portents and a thoroughgoing delight on its own terms.
Finally, Perahia gives us all the juvenile concertos, including arrangements for piano and orchestra by the 9-year-old Wunderkind of sonatas by Johann Christian Bach (IM 39222) and arrangements by the much more mature 12-year-old of pieces by lesser contemporaries in which Mozart asserts a good deal of his own personality (IM 39225).
Perahia plays every measure of this music with his customary fluency. But the bigger, the more profound the music, the more fussy and miniaturizing his approach.
Thus, K. 488 emerges an exquisite and, in quite the wrong way, precious gem. How one wishes the pianist would lean into a phrase once in a while, singing out rather than forever sighing!
Perahia is a different and vastly more interesting pianist in the early works, where he is not trying to make interpretive points. One gets instead a rare glimpse of the artist's capacity to project ebullience and wit.
One of music's more interesting eccentrics, the Viennese pianist Friedrich Gulda, makes one of his rare recorded appearances with an equally eccentric conductor, Nikolaus Harnoncourt. They team, to surprisingly coherent effect, in Mozart's "Coronation" Concerto, K. 537, and, again, the A-major Concerto, K. 488 (Teldec 6.42970).
Harnoncourt's previous Mozart recordings--in which he traded his period-instrument Vienna Concentus Musicus for the sleekly 20th-Century Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra--have been minor monuments to self-indulgence, brimming with pointless accents, willful sforzandos , erratic tempos and quirky dynamics.
Gulda, whose playing can be equally odd, if rarely without a defensible interpretive rationale, gives us a most lively and strong account of the "Coronation"--a concerto whose retrogressive lack of regard for woodwind-piano interplay makes it the least sophisticated and, these days, least performed of the late Mozart concertos. Gulda and Harnoncourt, the latter on his best behavior, project the martial tunes with terrific brio.
The pianist ornaments his part by playing in the tuttis, interpolating runs and trills and otherwise fleshing out a score that was set to paper with extraordinary haste and carelessness by the composer.
In the A-major Concerto Harnoncourt becomes heavy-handed. But not to the point of obscuring Gulda's stylish execution.
Period-practice Mozart at its most stimulating can be found in Volume II of the Mozart cycle begun last year by fortepianist Malcolm Bilson and the English Baroque Soloists under John Eliot Gardiner.
The new release contains the sparkling, deceptively deep Concerto No. 12 in A, K. 414, and the less imposing No. 14 in E-flat, K. 449 (Archiv 413 463).
The virtues of these performances are consistent with those in Volume I: energy, suppleness, flawless piano-orchestra balance.
Bilson and Gardiner are not merely notable Mozart scholars, they are wonderfully invigorating entertainers.
A rougher hewn period style is dispensed by fortepianist Steven Lubin, who also directs from the keyboard a small orchestra of New York period-instrument specialists calling themselves the Mozartean Players. Their vehicle is the massive Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466 (Arabesque 6524), that favorite of the Romantics, who otherwise scorned Mozart's piano music.
Lubin plays it big all the way--stretching the capabilities of his fragile instrument to the utmost. It is a direct interpretation, intentionally--perhaps even didactically--blunt in dynamics and phrasing. But the accompanying solo work, the pretty-pretty Mozart variations on "Ah, vous dirais-je, Mamam" (known to us as "Twinkle, twinkle little star") show Lubin's instrument off to better effect.
The Rumanian-born pianist Clara Haskil, who has become somewhat of a cult figure since her death in 1960, was a classicist in everything she played. She refused to succumb to the Romantic temptations of the Concerto in D minor and the equally dramatic C-minor Concerto, K. 491 (No. 24), investing her playing with a powerful sense of line and emotional directness. She may not trill from the upper auxiliary, or play along in the tuttis and improvise gap-filling runs. But she does give us the full measure of intensity and grandeur inherent in these works, qualities admirably captured in a Philips compact disc rerelease (412 254-2) of a 1958 recording.
And while the Lamoureux Orchestra of Paris, under Igor Markevitch's burly and obviously sympathetic direction, isn't the most polished or sweet-toned ensemble on earth, it does give us the requisite big sound to match these big interpretations.
There is audible tape hiss on the compact disc, but the music itself emerges with greater clarity and immediacy than would be possible in a standard vinyl disc reissue of a recording made more than a quarter-century ago.