John O'Conor

Everybody's Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 17, 20, 22 & 24

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It's not clear what makes this two-disc set "everybody's Mozart," unless it's simply the budget price. There are no booklet notes or introductory material of any kind. The set collects four Mozart concerto recordings made in 1991 by Irish pianist John O'Conor with Charles Mackerras leading the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Despite the chamber orchestra designation, this is a full-blown symphonic presentation of Mozart, putting just as much weight on the music as might be heard in a recording by the Berlin Philharmonic. Listen to the opening of the Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466 (CD 1, track 1), where Mackerras puts accents worthy of the "Surprise Symphony" on Mozart's sforzando notes. As long as you're down with this, however, the set qualifies as a bargain. O'Conor is an underrated pianist with a liquid tone (try him in the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4 sometime) that here makes a sharp contrast with the orchestra. The combination works best in the two big, minor-key concertos, with the Piano Concerto No. 20 coming out as an intense, poetic reading. But the playing is accurate and lively throughout, and nothing much needed to be done to the fine original Telarc sound. Back in the LP era, this is what used to be known as a bargain bin find: a reduced-price release by a little-known but top-notch, often European artist. Confirmed fans of historical-instrument approaches to Mozart should sample carefully, however.

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