Piano Concertos Nos 25 & 26 Franceso Piemontesi (piano); Scottish Chamber Orchestra/andrew Manze Linn CKD 544 61:11 mins
On paper this recording seems an exciting prospect, yet oddly the reality sounds like less than the sum of its parts. For starters, the pairing is possibly not ideal: Mozart’s big C major Piano Concerto No. 25, K503 is one of the best of them all, while No. 26, K537, though adjacent to it in numbering terms, is scarcely its equal in terms of inspiration. Francesco Piemontesi’s playing is mostly magnificent, though, with crystalline clarity, radiant tone and eloquent phrasing. In the fine and intriguing cadenzas – K537 by Paul Badura-skoda and K503 by Friedrich Gulda – he shines with surety of purpose.
Nevertheless, there’s a certain rigidity and heavy-handedness in the orchestra with the result that even Mozart at his most sublime remains resolutely earthbound. Often
Andrew Manze seems to emphasise the first beat in a way that makes the barlines almost visible; and rather than flowing naturally through Mozart’s inventive chromaticisms, there’s a tendency to ram them home – notably in K503’s slow movement, in which even Piemontesi lunges at a particularly juicy bass-line with the musical equivalent of an upraised rolling pin.
This exaggeration of detail at the expense of flow can sometimes become problematic. The Scottish Chamber Orchestra sounds cogent and well unified, but the slow movements’ crucial wind section contributions come across as efficient rather than operatic. The piano seems rather closely miked, although the recorded sound quality (from the Usher Hall) is otherwise pleasing and warm. The totality of course is not bad, but certain elements can seem bothersome. Your response may be different. Jessica Duchen