Badura-Skoda plays Mozart Piano Concertos – Music & Arts

by | Sep 15, 2011 | Classical Reissue Reviews

MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, K. 503; Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat Major, K. 482 – Paul Badura-Skoda, piano/ Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Horst Stein (K. 503)/ Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra/George Szell (K. 482) – Music & Arts CD-1254, 65:59 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
These resurrected performances–the C Major Concerto 15 June 1978 and the E-flat Concerto 19-20 December 1959–reveal Paul Badura-Skoda (b. 1927) as a grand master of the Viennese style, a distinction attested to by his having been awarded the Boesendorfer Ring for his best embodying that city’s distinct musical ethos. For the magisterial 1786 C Major Concerto, Badura-Skoda has the firm assistance of Horst Stein (1928-2008), a master of both instrumental and operatic repertory. The first movement’s repeated Gs bear the mark of both Beethoven’s later Fifth Symphony and La Marseillaise, a martial grandeur Badura-Skoda exploits in his own cadenza, which sets the march as a canon. The bubbling rising scales–those familiar Mannheim “rocket” figures–simply achieve an ethereal dimension, while the pianist’s scales and liquid runs cast a music-box aura over the festive proceedings. The “pomposo” element at the coda vibrates with opera buffa energies, but the scale has become nothing short of heroic.
The F Major Andante plays under Badura-Skoda as a suave adagio in long breaths. The writing allows Badura-Skoda to exhibit the keyboard as a vocal palette of nuance and diverse colors, especially as Mozart scores various woodwinds and the French horns to interweave with the keyboard’s upper register. The orchestral part under Stein enjoys a chiseled clarity that might induce us to ascribe the conducting to Karl Bohm or George Szell. The last movement, a high-spirited sonata-rondo, takes its impetus from some ballet music from the 1781 opera Idomeneo. The writing here, however, proves strictly bravura, a testimony to Mozart’s aristocratically deft finesse in rapid witty filigree. In the legato passages, the breadth of Mozart’s humanity shines through, the low strings underlining a melody of infinite tenderness that soon assumes syncopated raptures. The last pages vie among themselves for imaginative and virtuoso supremacy, the quicksilver power of Mozart’s fertile musicianship in full flight. A distinctive “Bravo!” from an audience member says it all.
The spirit of The Marriage of Figaro seems to invest the 1785 E-flat Concerto with feral power, its scale lyrically huge and intimate at once. This review first felt its uncanny energies courtesy of Edwin Fischer. The potent modulations to minor keys prove infinitely dramatic in a way that seems endemic to late Mozart and highly influential to Beethoven. Szell (1897-1970) appears particularly volatile in the opening movement, his entries resonant with his especial authority and bite, his COA woodwinds alert and vibrant, along with an ardent tympani. Badura-Skoda utilizes the horn motif from the orchestral introduction as the basis for his own cadenza, a dazzling creation whose dazzling right hand filigree play off a dark chromatic line or trumpet call in the bass.
The tragic second movement Andante sets a theme in thirty-two measures whose plaintive affect Badura-Skoda takes up from the muted strings and intensifies, partly in imitation. The woodwinds break in twice with episodes set in a major key–a kind of wind serenade in the midst of a gloomy woods–but they fail to console a spirit that languishes in C Minor. The dark chordal progressions that evolve in the latter half of the movement echo Mozart’s Masonic sentiments from his K. 477, the bassoon’s contributing to the somber coloring in the piano’s swan-song. A witty radiance emanates from the pompous Allegro-Andante finale, the theme one of the childlike evocations that mark the naïve genius. The COA flute has some significant flutter to add to the mix of spins, runs, and appoggiaturas. Suddenly, a divine intermezzo opens before us, an idyll of keyboard trills and tender legato in the midst of sweet dalliance. The final ritornello shimmers with healthy innocence and majesty, the enthusiasm of principals enthralled by Mozart’s resplendent harmony. These are Mozart performances in the grand manner.
—Gary Lemco

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