Mozart: Klavierkonzerte No 22 & 23 / Barenboim, Kubelik, Bavarian Radio Symphony

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A congenial coming together of kindred spirits.


MOZART Piano Concertos: No. 22, K 482; No. 23, K 488 Daniel Barenboim (pn); Rafael Kubelík, cond; Bavarian RSO BR 900709 (58:48)

Twenty-eight year old Daniel Barenboim and the esteemed conductor Rafael Kubelík are heard here in two of Mozart’s most profound and appealing piano concertos. Twenty years later, in 1990, Barenboim recorded these concertos with the Berlin Philharmonic, this time as both pianist and conductor. Between these years, Murray Perahia in his early 30s, as both pianist and conductor, recorded these concertos (in the mid 1970s) with the English Chamber Orchestra, and elder statesman Rudolf Serkin recorded them (in the mid 1980s) with Claudio Abbado and the London Symphony Orchestra. Barenboim, while continuing a busy schedule as a pianist, eventually became principal conductor or music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and later of the Berlin Philharmonic. Perahia continues, on occasion, to conduct chamber orchestras from the keyboard. Serkin never, to my knowledge, served as conductor. These facts are a source for interesting performance comparisons of these concertos. I am wary of the practice of conducting from the keyboard when the orchestral demands are equal to those of the piano or of any other keyboard instrument, and these two concertos make such equal demands.

The first and third movements of the E? concerto (K 482) on this CD are played at rather fast tempos, producing an inappropriate tension and a consequent masking of detail, robbing the listener of the ability to savor the beauty of Mozart’s creation. The exception is the andantino cantabile middle section of the third movement, where the tempo is suitable. The second-movement variations, however, are exceptionally well played, but the thrilling effect of the right-hand C Minor against the left-hand C Major (starting at the legato at bar 13 from the end) in the final variation is not discernible. Barenboim’s 20-year-later effort as pianist-conductor is much more successful, principally because of his more relaxed tempos. The C Minor/C Major effect in the final variation, however, remains hidden. Perahia as pianist-conductor produces a more satisfying K 482 than either of Barenboim’s efforts by using not only relaxed tempos but more effective phrasing. The C Minor/C Major effect in the final variation is no longer hidden at Perahia’s command. Unfortunately, Perahia’s decision to use Hummel’s cadenzas in the first and third movements was not a wise one. The Serkin/Abbado K 482 is still my favorite because of its very many virtues. Serkin’s characteristically deliberate tempos benefit this concerto by allowing the listener to hear detail not easily discovered, even in Perahia’s fine account. Abbado’s ability to allow inner part-writing to be clearly heard matches Serkin’s attention to detail. The C Minor/C Major effect in the final variation is crystal clear, and as a result an ecstatic experience. Bars 181–182 (shortly before the andantino cantabile ) in the final movement pass unremarkably from both Barenboim and Perahia, but Serkin plays them with an agogic that allows accenting of the first note of each of the four occurrences of four 16th-note groups. The result (at 4:00 in the Serkin recording) is magic.

The A-Major Concerto (K 488) fares better than its companion concerto under Barenboim/Kubelík and under Barenboim-“squared.” The more relaxed first-movement tempo of Barenboim-squared is initially preferable to that of Barenboim/Kubelík, but the latter has the distinct advantage of more discernible orchestral detail. But Barenboim’s more relaxed tempo in his dual role eventually becomes a bit sluggish. The plaintive F?-Minor Adagio has Barenboim at his best in both recordings, but Kubelík’s independence as conductor produces a more convincing emotional effect. The final movement is a Barenboim/Kubelík triumph in terms of the exuberance demanded by the music and the orchestral detail provided by the conductor. Especially noteworthy are the important bassoon passages, which are never masked, and the three appearances of the passage borrowed from the first movement of the B?-Concerto (K 456), which are gloriously bouncy. The final movement under Barenboim-squared is too subdued—too square, as it were. My preferences for the A-Major Concerto are Perahia-squared (but never square) and Serkin/Abbado. The former is the master of phrase shaping and the latter the master of attention to detail.

This is a disc worth having because Barenboim and Kubelík have something unique to say about these concertos. My preferences may lie elsewhere, but hidden details like bassoon passages and C Minor/C Major superposition are revealed enough by familiarity with the music to free them from complete hiding.

FANFARE: Burton Rothleder

Barenboim first collaborated with Kubelík when the pianist was sixteen. That encounter was in Australia. And K488 was the first concerto he played in public, back when he was eight. The conjunction of that concerto and the Czech conductor comes in this release from BR Klassik, which presents a collaboration made in June 1970 in Munich where Kubelík was music director of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra.

This was a compatible meeting of minds. Barenboim is on record as having admired the older man for his seriousness and vitality, and it certainly sounds to have been a congenial coming together of kindred spirits. Kubelík ensures that the string weight in K488 is not too saturated but remains clarified, if not exactly spruce. Meanwhile Barenboim is characteristically attentive in his exchanges with the wind principals – the warmly supple dialogue with the first flute is a case in point. The first movement cadenza is conspicuously well played but contains melancholic introspections that are fully realised in the central movement – the veiled anticipations lead with inexorable logic to the deepening expression that follows. What remains laudable is that this expression comes at no cost to the architectural continuity of the music making. Instead the clarinets offer reprieve in their flowing episodes and the grandeur of the melancholy is adroitly realised by a confluence of soloists, alert orchestral colours and detailed etching of rhythms and contours from the conductor. Released from this spirit, the finale explores more bucolic emotions – bubbling lower winds, clarity and rounded ebullience from Barenboim and if the recording somewhat favours, as so often, the soloist - meaning that some winds writing can be swamped - this deficiency doesn’t materially limit one’s appreciation of a fine traversal, a unanimous one moreover, expressively and intellectually.

These features apply equally to the companion concerto performed here, the Concerto in E, K482. The Military-Janissary quality is welcomingly celebrated by Kubelík, the crisp chording having more than a touch of imperial majesty about them. Barenboim evokes something of his hero Edwin Fischer’s simplicity of expression. His excellently conceived cadenza playing impresses and so too does the austerity and interior expression of the slow movement. The reminiscent reverie cultivated in the central panel of the finale attests to the probing introspection of these collaborations.

Naturally Barenboim’s concerto cycle with the ECO will be the first port of call for collectors of the commercial discography from around this time. But these almost contemporaneous live traversals are of lasting value given the assured and sensitive direction of Kubelík.

-- Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 900709

  • UPC: 4035719007091

  • Label: BR Klassik

  • Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

  • Conductor: Rafael Kubelik

  • Performer: Daniel Barenboim