Jean-Philippe Collard

Mozart: Piano Concertos 6, 8, 11-14

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Several recordings of Mozart's piano concertos accompanied only by a string quartet (or quintet) have appeared lately; this group of six, recorded in 1988, was one of the first. They are "authentic" inasmuch as the arrangements are Mozart's own, although his justification for doing them was that if he didn't, someone else would. One suspects that they are appearing now for the same reason they did in Mozart's day -- not everybody can afford to support a full orchestra. Annotator Jeremy Siepmann makes the refreshing admission that "no one could actually argue that the present concertos are actually improved by their reduction," and the loss throughout of Mozart's gorgeous wind writing is amplified in the Piano Concerto No. 13 in C major, K. 415, which includes trumpets and drums in the orchestra and loses a whole range of martial associations in this version. All this said, this vigorous French set stands out from other available versions for those who, again quoting Siepmann, desire to become "privileged eavesdroppers on domestic music-making." The Quatuor Muir and pianist Jean-Philippe Collard (he's anything but green) solve the problem of balancing a modern grand piano careening through bravura passageworks with a string quartet (the Muir does not, unlike some others who have taken on this repertoire, double the bottom line in the "orchestral" texture with a string bass). It is not so much that Collard reins in his sound -- although he does manage the trick of imparting real liveliness to his rhythms within a limited dynamic range -- as the quartet juices up its sound and quite artfully creates an effect very different and more commanding that that of an ordinary string quartet. Collard's piano doesn't seem to come out of anywhere when it enters, and in some of the music of more modest dimensions, notably the Piano Concerto No. 11 in F major, K. 413, you can almost forget about those missing winds. A good pick for these arrangements, which remain effective as background music for the same kinds of social gatherings in which they might have served in Mozart's day.

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