Paul Badura-Skoda / Prague Chamber Orchestra

Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 22 & 18

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Veteran Viennese pianist Paul Badura-Skoda has been recording Mozart since the era of 78 rpm records, and the long evolution of his playing is praiseworthy in itself. Among pianists from the mainstream he was an early adopter of historical instruments. In this pair of recordings made in Prague (at two different locations, one live and one not, but both nicely engineered by the enterprising French label Transart) he uses a modern Bösendorfer, but the marks of his experience with the fortepiano are audible. The dimensions are intimate, the textures transparent. Badura-Skoda avoids Romantic grand piano gestures and favors rather episodic readings with close attention to small details of phrasing forged both in his own playing and among the musicians of the Prague Chamber Orchestra, which he conducts from the keyboard. Sample the beginning of the finale of the Piano Concerto No. 22 in E flat major, K. 482, for an illustration of his approach: he teases out the considerable rhythmic complexity of this seemingly naïve theme as it shifts its rhythmic profile between piano and orchestra and then is developed. (Badura-Skoda reprises the entire movement at the end of the program as an encore; apparently he liked his reading, but inasmuch as the program as a whole doesn't represent a live concert, it's a bit of an odd decision.) Once the basic thematic material has been laid out he pushes the tempo in the piano. The outer movements here are consistently absorbing and detailed, with a feeling of discovery coming from Badura-Skoda; the slow movements are on the dry side. These recordings are available both as single discs and as a set containing six Mozart concertos; in either form they're quiet reflections well worth hearing from a master of the Viennese school.

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