Mozart: Symphonies Nos. 25 & 40, Piano Concerto No. 14 / Gulda, Sawallisch, RCO

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MOZART Symphonies: No. 25; No. 40. Piano Concerto No. 14 Wolfgang Sawallisch, cond; Friedrich Gulda (pn); Concertgebouw O ORFEO 795 091, mono (69:37) Live: Salzberg 7/2/1958

This concert places the E? Piano Concerto (K 449) between the two G-Minor Symphonies (K 183 and K 550), resulting in an artfully constructed Mozart program. For a monaural recording, the sound quality is good, although a bit damped. Audience noise is not present except between movements and as applause at the end of each work.

Sawallisch’s beat is strong throughout, and orchestral clarity is good enough to allow part-writing transparency. Tempos are generally rapid, so that nothing ever drags. The opening movement tempo of K 550, however, could use a little braking. Exposition repeats are observed in the first and last movements of K 183 and in the first movement of K 550. The last movement of K 550, however, is played without repeats, and this leaves impressions of imbalance and unfinished business. Obviously, the conductor thought otherwise, and I bow to his judgment.

Friedrich Gulda at 28 and Wolfgang Sawallisch at 35 were, in 1958, among the most promising young pianists and conductors of the time. This account of Mozart’s Concerto No. 14 is a living example of that promise. The conductor reached great heights in the coming years, eventually being named conductor laureate of the Philadelphia Orchestra. The pianist was a maverick with a penchant for challenging the musical establishment and daring to display a strong interest in jazz. He eventually faded as a performer who was once sought-after by the more traditional concertgoers. His death in 2000 at age 69 revived interest in his early recordings. In the Piano Concerto, this disc offers a snapshot of promise of two artists in vintage Mozart. Twenty years earlier in a studio recording, 35-year-old Rudolf Serkin and conductor Adolf Busch and the Adolf Busch Chamber Players offered this Concerto in a different, more quickly paced style, but still as vintage Mozart. In both performances, there is no tempo tampering, no dynamics distortion, and no excesses of expression—there is just beautiful Mozart expressed by beautiful phrase shaping. The closest to these standards in a modern recording is Murray Perahia’s with the English Chamber Orchestra. Perahia’s tempos are closer to Serkin’s than to Gulda’s in the first movement, but closer to Gulda’s than to Serkin’s in the last movement. Where Serkin and Perahia perform with chamber orchestras, Gulda performs with a full, but suitably reduced, orchestra that Sawallisch never allows to overpower either the music or the piano sound.

This is a memorable Salzberg Festival program from which one comes away with a deeper understanding of Mozart. This is a very good disc to have.

FANFARE: Burton Rothleder

Product Description:

  • Release Date: September 04, 2009

  • Catalog Number: ORF-C795091

  • UPC: 4011790795126

  • Label: ORFEO

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Period: Classical

  • Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

  • Conductor: Wolfgang Sawallisch

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra

  • Performer: Friedrich Gulda