DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

MOZART: Selected Piano Concertos – various performers [TrackList follows] (2013) – 4 DVDs

Titled "Great Piano Concertos," this is a worthwhile collection of selected Mozart concerto videos.

Published on April 25, 2013

MOZART: Selected Piano Concertos, 4 DVDs (2013)

[PlayList at bottom]
Performers: Radu Lupu, Aleksandar Madžar, Dezső Ránki, Ivan Klánský, Christian Zacharuas, Mitsuko Uchida, Malcolm Frager, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Zoltán Kocsis, Heidrun Holtmann, and Homero Francesch
Studio: EuroArts [Distr. by Naxos] [3/26/13]
Video: 4:3  color
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1; PCM stereo
Extras: None
Length: 6.5 hours total
Rating: ****½ 

This collection of over half of Mozart’s piano concertos will probably please all but the most picky of Mozart connoisseurs. How could they not? Even though none of the performances are earlier than 22 years ago, it doesn’t affect enjoyment that much. The sound is well-engineered and the video professionally filmed. The camera work is a bit staid: there is no panning or zooming and not a single creative effect appears, not one star filter or arty shot through the crook in a musician’s shoulder. This is transparent filming at its cleanest and most uncreative, dedicated only to conveying two or three angles of each pianist. It is filmed in the now-antiquated 4:3 perspective, and was probably shot for European television.

In the end, who cares? What skills these pianists possess! Serbian Aleksandar Madžar plays Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 27 with such transparent delicacy, most of the time with his eyes closed, that he seems to float above his instrument, peering to his left side only to absorb the conducting ministrations of Andre Previn. Madžar’s style is clearly romantic, which isn’t necessarily bad or even incorrect with a classical composer who teetered on the edge at times, but may strain a listener’s patience if done excessively, like Madžar does in the Larghetto movement. Hungarian pianist Dezső Ránki performs more subtly in the Adagio movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17. He clearly gets it, and swoops like a hunting falcon down on the Allegretto and ambushes it with 18th- century speed, precision, and zero affectation. Like the ballet in Christoph Willibald Ritter von Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice, he is a joy to watch because every move seems right.

Speaking of joy, the most intriguing performance of the entire set has to go to Mitsuko Uchida and her quirky interpretation of Piano Concerto No. 9. I know of no pianist who is more fun to watch. Her dancing eyebrows, restless mouth pursings, and her body’s manic swaying add to her riveting rendition of this lively piece. Every note seems forged by total involvement.

I’ve always loved the proto-Romantic strains of Piano Concerto No. 20 – Beethoven even wrote a cadenza for it – and I was happy to see that the Czech Ivan Klánský gave it such a feet-in-both-worlds approach (alas, with his own rather than Beethoven’s cadenza). Both intense concentration and sly bemusement crosses his brow when playing this work, often within seconds of each other. He doesn’t lay the angst on thickly, knowing that with Mozart it’s only transitory. To find a more idiosyncratic reading, visit Youtube and catch Uchida’s noteworthy display. Not only does she include Beethoven’s cadenza, she also conducts the piece using her own theatrical gestures (a finger to the lips for pianissimo!).

Romanian pianist Radu Lupu once said, “Everyone tells a story differently and that story should be told compellingly and spontaneously.” The “story” Lupu tells while performing Piano Concerto No. 19 is compelling and spontaneous. It is also careful and deliberate. He handles Mozart’s only concerto without a slow movement like a 20th century poet, once as a master of timing, and once as a time-traveler who reports back to us about the unimaginable elegance of late classical style.

Of course thanks to Youtube, you can preview all of these concertos before deciding to purchase this set. Beware: they won’t sound 1/4 as good, so try to imagine them with fuller sound and far better differentiation between instrument and orchestra. [There is a Blu-ray set (with lossless hi-res surround) available of Mozart’s last eight piano concertos with Daniel Barenboim…Ed.]


Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat major, K271 “Jeunehomme”
Mitsuko Uchida (piano)
Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg
Piano Concerto No. 12 in A major, K414
Vladimir Ashkenazy (piano and conductor)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Piano Concerto No. 26 in D major, K537 ‘Coronation’
Homero Francesch (piano)
Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie
Piano Concerto No. 1 in F major, K37
Heidrun Holtmann (piano)
Orchestra della Radiotelevisione della Svizzera Italiana, Marc Andreae
Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, K41
Heidrun Holtmann (piano)
Orchestra della Radiotelevisione della Svizzera Italiana, Marc Andreae
Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K488
Zoltán Kocsis (piano)
Virtuosi di Praga, Jiri Belohlávek
Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, K491
André Previn (piano & conductor)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Piano Concerto No. 6 in B flat major, K238
rec. Schwetzingen Palace on May 29th, 1989
Christian Zacharias (piano)
Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, Gianluigi Gelmetti
Piano Concerto No. 19 in F major, K459
rec. Sophiensaal, Munich on July 12th, 1990
Radu Lupu (piano)
Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie, David Zinman
Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K466
rec. Rittersaal of Palais Waldstein on November 19th-20th, 1990
Ivan Klánský (piano)
Virtuosi di Praga, Jirí Belohlávek
Piano Concerto No. 5 in D major, K175
rec. Teatro Bibiena, Mantua, Italy, 19 April 1989
Malcolm Frager (Steinway piano)
Orchestra della Radiotelevisione della Svizzera Italiana, Marc Andreae
Piano Concerto No. 8 in C major, K246 “Lützow”
rec. Schwetzingen Palace, Schwetzingen, Germany, 17 May 1989
Christian Zacharias (piano)
Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart, Gianluigi Gelmetti
Piano Concerto No. 17 in G major, K453
rec. Imperial Palace of Schönbrunn, Vienna, Austria, 15 November 1990
Dezsö Ránki (Steinway piano w/o lid)
English Chamber Orchestra, Jeffrey Tate
Piano Concerto No. 27 in B flat major, K595
rec. Imperial Palace of Schönbrunn, Vienna, Austria, 29 November 1990
Aleksandar Madžar (piano)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, André Previn

—Peter Bates

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