MOZART Piano Concertos Nos 11 - 13
One and a half discs here present Mozart’s piano concertos in their stripped-down forms for piano with string quartet, thus omitting the woodwind instruments that were very much the composer’s hallmark in his Viennese music, and especially in the concertos. He prepared (or sanctioned) these small-scale versions of K413‑415 to enable domestic performance and thus maximise the works’ sales potential, not to mention making them better known among the Austrian capital’s middle classes.
These days we can, literally at the push of a button, hear these works in their full woodwind-bedecked glory, so it’s something of a puzzle as to why people persist in recording them in these compromised versions. Still, that is what we have here. The Kuijkens’ disc is very much a family affair, with the solo parts taken by sisters Veronica and Marie, father Sigiswald directing from the violin and Sara, another sister, beside him on second violin.
The use of a double bass rather than a cello adds beef to the sound, providing a luxurious cushion for the fortepiano which, while unidentified in the booklet, has a pleasing tone, with a ringing top and a bass that is fully capable of growling when needs be. These are fine performances, too: perhaps Veronica is by a shade the more mellifluous, imaginative player in the C major and A major Concertos than her sister in the F major.
Jan Bartoš, on the other hand, plays on a modern piano and is joined by a steel-strung quartet with the standard line-up for K414. The acoustic here is more spacious, allowing for greater ease of balance between the instruments, although you are aware throughout that Bartoš is careful never to eclipse his partners. In the hymnlike slow movement he spins a beguiling, sustained melody that contrasts wonderfully with his sprightly playing elsewhere.
Nevertheless, these works are best heard as intended. Kristian Bezuidenhout scored an Editor’s Choice last year with his disc of the three concertos, and that would certainly be a viable period-instrument first choice; Mozartians will be sure to have their favourites among the many cycles on modern instruments.
It seems almost impertinent to refer at last to Bartoš’s D minor Concerto with the full forces of the Czech PO under the late Jiří Bělohlávek, recorded in May 2013. This displays all the characterful acumen the pianist brings to K414, with some beautiful woodwind-playing – at last! – from the Czech players.