Mark Bebbington / David Curtis / Orchestra of the Swan

Mozart: Piano Concertos, K.413-415

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Oblivious of the large number of international and even domestic Mozart piano concerto releases already on the market, British performers keep on churning them out. This one is by the Orchestra of the Swan, based (naturally enough) in Stratford-on-Avon, with pianist Mark Bebbington; both have specialized mostly in contemporary music up to now. The ensemble's style, however, suggests not contemporary music but the Romantics, although an orchestra of a modest size is used. Conductor David Curtis fosters a silky legato in the strings and pushes the tempo in such a way as to suggest music from the Romantic chamber-orchestra literature -- sample the very un-minuet-like Tempo di minuetto movement of the Piano Concerto No. 11 in F major, K. 413. Tempos are on the slow side throughout, and the music seems to settle into charmed moments of stasis -- Bebbington is good at picking up on these even after several minutes have elapsed, and the performance carries a level of detail that will stand up to repeated listenings. The sound environment, an 1830 Classical spa building in the city of Cheltenham, is a disincentive to the buyer; the piano has a limp sound, and the whole has a murky effect that's at odds with what the performers are trying to do. And, by modern standards, the performance is probably a bit too sweet; the listener who wants Mozart concertos on modern instruments can find versions by Mitsuko Uchida and others that have a more vigorous flair. Yet there is a musicality here that makes the performances add up to more than the sum of their parts, and true Mozart lovers are invited to sample a good-size stretch of any of these concertos.

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