Vladimir Ashkenazy / Orchestra di Padove e del Veneto

Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 17 & 20

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Quite active into his senior citizen years, Russo-Icelandic pianist and conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy has concentrated on virtuoso Romantic works for much of his long career, but has devoted considerable energy to Mozart as well, releasing a widely praised series of Mozart concertos with the Philharmonia Orchestra of London. As he did on those albums, Ashkenazy is both pianist and conductor in the live performance that is captured on this release. It's the equal of the London performances, with a few minor glitches in the string section of the young Orchestra di Padova e del Veneto more than overshadowed by the energy, the liveliness, and above all the superlative engineering of the whole. A crew of engineers from Japan's Octavia label obviously spent time investigating the qualities of the Vienna Konzerhaus, where the music was recorded in 2003, and the overall spaciousness and resolution of the sound are impressive. More than that, the album's sound design is ideally suited to Ashkenazy's style in general and especially to his somewhat puckish mood in the Piano Concerto No. 17 in G major, K. 453, that leads off the concert. The aging Ashkenazy finds lightness and a good deal of humor in this concerto and even plays down the Beethovenian qualities of the Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466, in favor of close attention to the work's motivic structure. The final movement of K. 466 in fact may be a bit on the restrained side for most listeners, with the orchestra making more of the final D major clearing of the clouds than Ashkenazy does. The central movements are both excellent reminders that for pure, liquid songfulness, with each note weighed for its resonance, Ashkenazy is still hard to top. A nice find for Ashkenazy fans worldwide, with exemplary live engineering. Notes are in Japanese and English, but the two sets of notes are not exactly the same.

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