Site review by ramesh June 20, 2006
|This disc issued by Sony Japan is a curious compilation. The 'Coronation' concerto comes from Perahia's integral cycle with the ECO. It is an early digital recording, from 1983, recorded at the church of St John's Smith Square, London. This may have been a missed opportunity, for when Sony reissued on CD only Glenn Gould's 1981 Bach 'Goldberg Variations' from an analogue tape ( Sony S3K 87703 ), the booklet notes of this release stated that in the early digital era, CBS used analogue back up magnetic tape at the start of the digital era. No such luck here. The Perahia Mozart cycle, like Ashkenazy's Decca one, commenced in the analogue era, and was completed by a sequence of digital recordings. K467 was analogue, but this isn't the version on the SACD. Instead, we have a 1990 recording made with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, in the Berlin Siemens Villa. This was originally released on CD for the Mozart bicentennial year, coupled to K595. Curious, as in the integral cycle currently on CD, Sony have opted for the earlier analogue K467.
K537 is a magnificent performance. I have not heard the original CD, but compared to CDs of the early 1980s, there is no more detail nor bloom on the strings. It sounds like a 16 bit recording, but the DSD upsampling has removed quite a bit of digital glare. For instance, two DGG SACDs, the 24 bit/44.1 kHz 1993 Mahler 5 from Abbado, and the same conductor's 1996 'Don Giovanni', have more evidence of 'digititis'. Perahia uses an unfamiliar cadenza, which may very well be his. In general, critical reception slightly favoured Perahia's concerto cycle over either Ashkenazy's or Brendel's which were completed at about the same time. Perahia's performance of K 537 shows the same features as the others in his cycle. The conductorless ECO have smoother, less heavily inflected melodic lines in the tuttis than Marriner and the ASMF gave for Brendel. However, this suits the styles for both pianists. Perahia consistently gives limpid performances of pellucid tonal beauty, which nonetheless have enough shaping to prevent any impression of blandness. Brendel's style distinguishes slurred from staccato notes more readily than Perahia's. He also occasionally emphasises the ends of phrases in such a way as to avoid predictability of the arching melodic line. It sounds more individual, though completely within the sensibilities of the period. Others might criticise this as unwarranted quirkiness.
Perahia has a gracious slow movement, more poised than most others, and a brilliant finale which omits the crackling wit that Brendel can often find. The trouble with much of the solo writing of this concerto is its Spartan nature, with bass lines only sketched in, etc. One wonders whether the original manuscript was ever completed. Perahia embellishes the slow movement, which is definitely needed at the gracious pace he takes it.
K467's recording has more depth and richness to it, and an almost glowing piano tone. It sounds like an extremely good 20 bit recording, preferable in terms of sound quality to the SACD of the 1996 'Don Giovanni' mentioned earlier. There is a faint but annoying low pitched hum underneath the entire performance. The piano is recorded too forwardly for the interchanges between soloist and woodwinds in the outer movements to be effective. The cadenzas are unfamiliar. The orchestra sound slightly smaller than say, the ASMF for Brendel, leading to a less martial air for the expansive first movement. By contrast, the celebrated andante is ethereal but kept moving, without the slightly indulgent dreaminess of Gulda's performance on the DGG SACD. Nevertheless Gulda, not a pianist I have much interest in, gives a great performance, although DGG shot themselves in the foot by issuing it only in fake multichannel without a stereo track. Perahia gives more weight to the left hand than Gulda, entirely justified by the results he achieves. Again, the finale is sparkling and brilliant without achieving effervescence. Perhaps a dedicated conductor would've cracked the whip, as Karajan did in his early collaboration with Dinu Lipatti in this concerto.