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CD Review

Wolfgang Mozart

  • Piano Concerto #15 in B Flat Major, K. 450 1
  • Piano Concerto #17 in G Major, K. 453 1
  • Piano Concerto #21 in C Major, K. 467 1
  • Piano Concerto #22 in E Flat Major, K. 482 2
  • Piano Concerto #23 in A Major, K. 488 2
  • Piano Concerto #24 in C minor, K. 491 1
  • Piano Concerto #26 in D Major "Coronation", K. 537 2
  • Piano Concerto #27 in B Flat Major, K. 595 2
  • Concerto for 2 Pianos in E Flat Major, K. 365 3,4
  • Concerto for 3 Pianos in F Major, K. 242 3-5
  • Piano Sonata #12 in F Major, K. 332
  • Quintet for Piano & Winds in E Flat Major, K. 452 6
Robert Casadesus, piano
4 Gaby Casadesus, piano
5 Jean Casadesus, piano
1 Members of the Cleveland Orchestra/George Szell
2 Columbia Symphony Orchestra/George Szell
3 Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy
6 Philadelphia Wind Quintet
Sony Classical Masters 88697-80945-2 5CDs
Find it at AmazonFind it at Amazon UKFind it at Amazon GermanyFind it at Amazon CanadaFind it at Amazon FranceFind it at Amazon JapanOrder Now from ArkivMusic.comFind it at CD Universe Find it at JPC

Although this set is an import, it is easily available on Amazon at extremely reasonable prices. Part of the bare-bones Classical Masters series, this product line returns a number of hugely important recordings to the active catalog. Admittedly, a few of these boxes are simply cheap reissues of discs still in print, but otherwise the entire series is a joy for veteran collectors. These Mozart collaborations with George Szell have been classics for nearly six decades, while younger music lovers like myself have been denied an easy way to acquire these performances. The disc with Eugene Ormandy is a family affair, with Casadesus' wife and son joining him for the concertos for multiple pianos. Finally, the set is rounded out with a solo sonata and the E Flat Major Wind Quintet.

Casadesus is often referred to by piano enthusiasts as the greatest student of the "French" school of playing. In very basic terms, this means classically poised and direct playing, with none of the Romantic richness of say, Arrau. That said, nothing is dry or overly cool, like Brendel could sometimes be. Poised and direct perfectly describes the orchestral support under George Szell, who was perhaps the finest Mozart conductor (of his type) ever. While you won't find Bruno Walter's warmth, you'll hear arguably more detail and – almost certainly – more crispness. Older collectors will note that the monophonic concertos from this team aren't here, and since this series has had no problem reissuing older recordings, there's no reason for that. Still, what is here is worth hearing.

In an age where Mozart performances are increasingly micromanaged and "historical", listeners will find much to relish in these meticulously balanced and carefully considered versions. True, Casadesus is objective and is less concerned about tonal lushness than some. Slow movements are organically shaped, but not inclined to linger on beauty. This seems to upset some Amazon reviewers, who find the pianist and Szell to be boring, or dry. Szell has been dealing with this critique for over eight decades (he died in 1970) and I imagine he will continue to until long after we die, too. The simple fact remains that few collaborations allow you to hear Mozart so clearly. The Cleveland Orchestra members (also playing under the contractual name of the Columbia Symphony Orchestra) are exceptional.

On the other hand, the disc with Ormandy reminds us that the famous conductor was never really at his best in the Classical repertoire, and everything is rather heavy by today's standards. The whole Casadesus Family plays with distinction, but these are slight works at best. The chamber music and the solo selection seem out of place, especially given my earlier complaint about material that could have easily fleshed out the Szell/Casadesus partnership. That said, the fact that this set retails for less than 20 dollars in most places makes it a treasure for both older listeners and newcomers to these timeless collaborations.

Copyright © 2015, Brian Wigman