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Reviews: Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 9 & 25 - Brendel

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Reviews: 4

Site review by akiralx June 8, 2005
Performance:   Sonics:  
I really got this for the Concerto No 9 K271 which I have preferred over many later and more famous Mozart concerti. While Brendel’s reading here doesn’t replace my favourite performance (by Friedrich Gulda on Orfeo), it is really excellent – in fact this SACD is enjoyable throughout, and given very fine sound.

The combined ages of the 2 principal artists must be about 150 years, and I think you can tell that from the performances – which is not to suggest at all that they are ponderous or overblown. It’s more a question of style: the orchestral sound is rather fuller than I was expecting, but strikes a good balance between crispness of sound with fine woodwind presence, and avoidance of thinness in the strings. Mackerras’ accompaniments reminded me rather of Karl Boehm’s Mozart: full of wisdom and grandeur but without heaviness.

The acoustic (the pretty large Usher Hall in Edinburgh) is generous, but the sound throughout is vivid and well focused, with the piano very well integrated into the aural picture. Generally this will appeal to listeners who like a traditional approach to Mozart piano concerti, but want to avoid too beefy an orchestral contribution.

One tiny caveat is that I would perhaps have liked the timpani to be more present (perhaps played with harder sticks?) at various points, most noticeably in K503’s opening ritornello – but they are clearly audible, and generally this SACD sounds first-rate.

The ‘Jeunehomme’ concerto (K271) typifies Brendel’s approach: tempi are fairly orthodox (certainly not particularly slow), although his playing of the central Andantino is quite romantic – which is no bad thing when the playing of soloist and orchestra alike is so pleasing.

Similarly he doesn’t set off like an express train in the brilliant finale (Gulda and others are faster here), so overall the performance is thoroughly Mozartian and is generally relaxed. His choice of tempo (certainly not too slow) for the finale also means that the lovely slower minuet episode half way through follows on naturally – other performances, like Barenboim’s on EMI, rather fall down here as the change in tempo and mood sound rather jarring.

The performance of No 25 K503 is actually rather Beethovenian, which seems correct to me for this later work: the orchestral introduction is robust and Brendel’s entry is similarly dramatic. Throughout this work the woodwind solos and string playing are really beautiful, and Brendel plays with an ideal combination of power and crisp elegance, especially in the finale.

Sonically, this DSD recording is superb – as I have mentioned the acoustic is fairly spacious but the presence of the performers is excellent, with a generous soundstage and tangible depth to the image.

I only listened in multichannel, and give this very high marks for the technical side of the recording. I can’t recall a piano concerto recording where the solo instrument sounded as good as it does here. The performances are also excellent, so this SACD is very recommendable.

Review by ~~Phil~~ December 12, 2004 (2 of 4 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
This is simply one of the finest SACD's I've ever heard produced. Brendel is truely one of the greatest living pianist. His sublime touch, great dynamics are as smooth as silk - Timeless quality for all to enjoy here....Very passionate and inspired performance - It's clear he has dedicated his life to mastering the true genius of W.A. Mozart...Sir Charles Mackererras is amazing as is the SCO...Recorded in a beautiful location - Edinburgh's Usher Hall - just a wonderful recording - Multi-chanel at its best! *****My highest reccomendation

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Review by theaudiohiffle March 1, 2006 (13 of 14 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
I am not a Mozart expert, so I'll leave most of the musical review to others. I'll give most of my comments to the sound. This CD impresses me as representing a really first class
recording of an orchestra and piano, perhaps the best I own out of perhaps 50 classical SACDS. And it is coupled with an equally first class performance.

This is first class Mozart-playing in my opinon. This is perhaps the best
I have ever heard Brendel play, and I am not alone in that opinion....I
exposed this disk to my close friend, a professional pianist, who had not heard
it before and who has ambivalent feelings about Brendel (as do I). She sat
in rapt attention throughout and proclaimed at the end that it perhaps the
finest recording of these pieces she has ever heard, and her reference
standard for Mozart is Martha Agerich, so her standards are high. So even
should you not agree with me re: the sound, you will be doing yourself a
favor regarding the music-making if you go out and buy this one.

As to the recording itself, it is an "early" (i.g. June 2001) Polyhymnia
all-DSD recording, with no disclosure of the actual recording location. In
multichannel SACD mode, the piano is front and center (a first row
perspective) perhaps highlighted a bit, perhaps not, with the orchestra
spread naturally behind the piano, again about as you would hear sitting in
the first through third rows. The depth sounds completely natural. The
recording is not overly reverberant, nor overly warm. But it is also not
cool and fact the balance in this regard is nearly perfect.
There is no distinct "hall sound" but there is a natural sounding ambiance
to the recording. In multi-channel form, IMO the recording is
near-perfection and very much akin to what I hear when I go to concerts.
Brendel's playing is exquisitely nuanced, as is the orchestra behind him.
The piano is full and natural in the bass, and pure, soft, and clear in the
treble. Nary a hint of digititus. There is no compression, so one gets the
full dynamic range, and to really hear it one needs to have the volume at
realistic levels. Conceivably this could tax some systems; on mine it
sounds marvelous.

Switching to the stereo mix, but still in SACD, the sound stage loses quite
a bit of its depth. The piano still sounds natural, but the orchestra is
kind of "flat" very close behind it. Also, whoever did the mix got the
violin (left) side of the orchestra a bit too strong in the mix, in my
opinion. Accordingly the violins sound a little out of balance to me at
times. But only by a small amount. While there is not the air or space
around the orchestra that the multichannel has, the SACD stereo version
still has SACD articulation. Just before the two minute mark in the first
movement, the first and second violins and the violas all come in together,
and it is possible to hear the individual instruments making up the sections
(almost) and the sections differentiated one from the other (for sure). And
as I mentioned before, the bass and the treble registers of the piano sound
exceptionally life-like (I have recorded a lot of classical grand piano, and
know good from bad in this respect).

Finally, switching to CD. The sound remains very fine overall, as befits a
DSD recording. But there are some subtle differences. First, although I
can't be sure, I believe some (relatively) light compression has been
applied. This results in the bass not sounding as natural as on the SACD
layers. A prime example of this is just after the five minute mark of the
first movement, where the low register is used by itself. In the SACD
layers, the sound is full and natural, without being boomy, but definitely
sound "round" as it does in a good hall. On the CD layer, this section has
a slightly hollow "thunk" quality that I believe is related to compression,
although conceivably it could be the transient quality of the medium itself.
It is a quality that I often hear on CD orchestral versions that I don't
hear on the SACD version (Walter's Beethoven Fifth is a prime example,
Mingus's Ah Um is another). The other difference is at the high end of the
strings register. On that section I mentioned above (just short of the two
minute mark) when the three sections of strings come in in unison, it is
still possible to hear that they are three sections, but at the very top of
the frequency range their is a "smear". If the sections were like letters
of icing on a cake, it is as if somebody drew a knife across the top of
them, blending the letters together with a smear of colored icing. The
effect is subtle, but it is there. And finally, as "collapsed" as the
stereo SACD layer sounds compared to the multichannel, the CD version lacks
yet less "air" and is flatter still. Don't get me wrong, this is still a
fine recording as a CD....but the differences from SACD are there.

In any case, I wanted to draw this recording to your attention. It is
superb playing and superb sound no matter which media you use, and if you
have a SACD player you are in for a real treat, especially if you are set up
for multichannel. Highly recommended.

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Review by Julien February 4, 2007 (6 of 8 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
After two excellent reviewers, I really don't feel like writing two many details about the music or the interpretation, and I'll focus more on something I usually don't write much about: the recording quality.

The first thing I need to say is that my Cary player was being repaired for three weeks, and having to listen to recordings on my Marantz 8400 resulted directly on me hardly listening to music, and definitely not daring to write any reviews. This may not sound very nice for people who appreciate SACDs everyday on cheap players, but there are a few reasons why I borrowed money for the expensive one.

And apart from everything everyone knows, like deeper and wider soundstage, much more open sound, much more bass and detail etc, one aspect is not much talked about, but influences judgment a lot: different systems have different presentations of a recording. OK, maybe we all know that. For example, many of us have the experience of one player lacking bass and making some recordings sound flat, or vice versa.

But it goes a lot deeper than that, the whole balance may change. I remember the sound of Britten's piano sounding like coming from another room compared to the very upfront cello of Rostropovitch in their recording of the Arpeggione sonata, and having me thinking of how bad a choice that was, or about Rostropovitch's ego etc. Then I got the better player, and it literally revealed the recording. Very truthful, with the piano placed behind like always on a stage, but sounding very natural. One of the best cello sonata recordings ever.

This Mozart recording here is another recording I had forgotten in my shelves, remembering that "it was OK". But a few months ago I rediscovered it. And again two days ago, when my Cary player came back, happy me listened to a lot of music. And among so many recordings, this one stood out. The whole is so lifelike, not only the quality of the sound itself, but the precision of each instrument's position is unbelievable, the balance sounds perfect to me (who knows, maybe with a much better system I might notice a few more problems, and maybe I'm being stupid with my racist-like player stories).

But what still strikes me the most actually is the openness of the sound, combined with the presentation of the hall's acoustics (multi-channel listeners here will tell me that if I had listened to the mch version I wouldn't write that, and maybe it's true, but this one is outstanding as a stereo mix anyway). Many old stereo recordings have that live-like quality of the instruments or voices (sometimes due to close-miking or tubes), but usually you don’t hear the music hall’s sound. And I’m also sometimes amazed at how the stereo mixes of some of the recent pure-DSD recordings out there lack that openness, thinking “god, take that curtain away” or something like that.

To put it in a nutshell, and according to me at this time, this recording has it all. One of the closest to live stereo recordings I own. Philips and Sony initiated SACD and truly made great recordings for it. 5 stars.

And not only it is the very best recording artistry you can find, this is also not one of those great recording/second rate performance combinations we used to see too much in the SACD world.

I had never heard the Scottish Chamber Orchestra before, and according to this recording this is as good as an orchestra gets. The string section plays close to perfect together (I want to say like the Alban Berg quartet…), and every single wind instrument player is so talented! Of course, even if we always tell conductor jokes which always try to say how useless conductors are and how they prevent players from playing well together etc, usually we all know that when an orchestra plays that well together, then the conductor’s presence was all for the good!

I’m kidding. I meant that I was admiring Sir Charles Mackerras’ outstanding work here. His musical talent can be heard in every player, every phrasing, and I love the stylistic approach here. It means, let the music speak for itself. And this coincides with the art of Mr Brendel, one of the few geniuses of the piano world. His style is very accurate, neutral and deeply personal at the same time, not giving one of those “juvenile” Mozart performances some like. His genius is a lot richer than the exhibitions of personality many usually call “genius”, and the more you get into his performance, the more transparent he becomes, the more transparent Mozart himself becomes, giving your own soul a picture of both your own life and the life you might own. And all the magic.

More please.

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