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CD Review

Wolfgang Mozart

Piano Concertos

  • Concerto #9 "Jeunehomme" in E Flat Major, K. 271 (1777)
  • Concerto #14 in E Flat Major, K. 449 (1784)
Alfred Brendel, piano
I Solisti di Zagreb/Antonio Janigro
Vanguard 4015 - 56min
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In the mid-'60s, a young firebrand named Alfred Brendel made a distinguished series of solo recordings for Vanguard. The repertory was mostly romantic, including an explosive rendition of Schumann's Symphonic Études (minus the irretrievably dull variations restored by Brahms that have been recorded by nearly every subsequent pianist), a charming collection of Chopin polonaises, two radiant Schubert Sonatas, and a spirited run-through of six Liszt Hungarian Rhapsodies. Most were out of print by the time I began serious collecting a decade later, though I did eventually acquire four of these unforgettable LPs. All are now available on CD, along with this delightful pairing of two early Mozart concertos, which I somehow never encountered on black disc.

These red-blooded, virile readings will surely blow the periwigs off the heads of any authenticists in earshot. The opening movement of Concerto 9 is as bright and chipper as they come. You can literally hear the laughter in the pianist's descending scales. The Zagreb Soloists are gutsy and assertive (if not always perfectly polished), and Brendel responds in kind. The dialogs of soloist and ensemble are dramatic and bracing, yet always playful. Meanwhile, the tender second subject provides Brendel with a welcome opportunity to show off his beautifully spun legato. When he repeats this theme in the cadenza, it takes on a dreamy, Schumannesque character. The andantino second movement is intense and brooding, and Brendel somehow makes each phrase seem even more touching than the last. The tempo in the outer portions of the finale is not terribly fast, but the performance is bubbly and joyous nonetheless. Brendel sings the touching melody of the slow central section with all the expressive power of a great Italian tenor. Iona Brown and Brigitte Meyer (Omega) treat this concerto as delicate chamber music. By contrast, Janigro and Brendel see it as a grand drama of operatic proportions. Both approaches are perfectly valid. You may prefer one over the other, but I'm glad to have both in my collection.

Brendel's Concerto 14 is wonderfully warm and spirited. This songfscore cries out for an artist with a gift for bel canto, and Brendel fills the bill splendidly. The Chopinesque writing in the central andantino movement is especially touching here. Tempos in the outer movements, especially in the finale, are unhurried, but there's always plenty of spring to the rhythms and joy in Brendel's step.

The piano was recorded from an oddly disconcerting perspective. Nonetheless, the ear adjusts quickly, and otherwise Vanguard's analog recording is vivid and clean.

Copyright © 1997, Tom Godell