2006 will be the Mozart Year – the 250th Anniversary of the birth of the boy genius – so Brilliant is making an early start on the avalanche of Mozart recordings coming our way soon. There are several traversals of all the Mozart concertos, but this is the first released on SACD, and at a bargain price in addition.
It should be explained that the label is very honest in describing on the discs exactly how they were made: They originated as PCM two-channel recordings made in l995 in various London locations including Henry Woods Hall. Brilliant then created the surround channels using a process called SpatialSonics, requiring conversion to analog. These multichannel recordings were then transferred to DSD using Genex and Pyramix systems and then spatialized again during mixing to the surround and stereo SACD formats. A number of other multichannel SACD releases have used similar processes to come up with 4.0 or 5.0 mixes from two-channel originals, but usually do not publicize that as Brilliant has. I decided to compare the surround field they generated with what I could achieve using the stereo SACD option with Pro Logic II. The ease of switching between the two with my Integra 10.5 player made this an easy comparison – switching can be done almost instantly with the Audio button on the remote. No matter how I adjusted the various center width, panorama and front-to-back options in Pro Logic II I could not achieve quite the realistic surround field which the Brilliant engineers (in Brazil) had accomplished with their pseudo-surround techniques.
Before leaving the audio side of this project, it should be mentioned that the concertos for two and three pianos contained on Disc 11 don’t come up to the audio standards of the other ten. Though they involve at least two well-known master pianists, the tapes were licensed from the Hungaraton label and are a bit muddy sounding. Disc No. 1 is a fascinating Mozartian documentary all by itself: Recorded just four years ago in a church in Utrecht, Netherlands, it presents the three early concertos as they were written and titled – for Harpsichord, 2 Violins & Basso Continuo. The three – in D Major, G Major and E Flat Major – were transcriptions of solo clavecin sonatas of Johann Christian Bach’s Opus 5, which Mozart’s father had his son doing both as pedagogical exercises and to have unique works to perform for royalty during their European Tour. The Mozart concertos (titled “After Johann Christian Bach”) are followed on the disc by the three J.C. Bach Sonatas that provided the starting point. They are in the same keys as Mozart’s versions but numbered 2, 3 & 4 instead of 1, 2 & 3, and are performed on the clavichord.
The arrangement of the piano concertos on each disc is not chronological but carried out in ways to provide an interesting program and variety. For example, the fourth disc sandwiches the Concerto No. 1 in between the 21st – the “Elvira Madigan” Concerto – and the 25th (both in C Major). Up until Disc 8 there are three concertos per disc, but the greater lengths of Nos. 20 in D Minor and 22 in E Flat Major, for example, require only two to a disc for 8 and 9. One characteristic of the later concertos is immediately apparent – the extremely long orchestral orchestral introductions before the first entrance of the solo piano. Listening to the D Minor caused me no end of anxiety since in college I performed this one with the student orchestra and remember vividly sitting there waiting to come in while my hands went cold and sweaty!
The No. 26 Concerto in D Major is extremely festive in nature, written to be performed at the coronation of a new emperor. No. 27 is more serious, as problems in Mozart’s short life were piling up. In fact the last few concertos are not as imaginative and brilliant as the dozen concertos in the middle, due to the composer’s sufferings and to his being more focused on his later symphonies than the concertos. Han is a fine soloist, perhaps not up to the level of some of the bigger names in this repertory, but doing no disservice to the genius of Mozart’s creativity in these delightful concertos. The Philharmonia provides well-balanced support and Han’s piano is thankfully not miked to sound 50 feet wide and as large as the orchestra. The note booklet has just enough information on each concerto to deepen one’s appreciation of the music. Altogether this is a recommendable package at an attractive price, especially for music-in-surround aficionados.
– John Sunier