Piano Concerto no 17: A selective discography
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto no 17 in G major, K453 (1784) • 14 recordings
Kristian Bezuidenhout (fortepiano) • Freiburger Barockorchester • Petra Müllejans (conductor) • rec: 2012 (Harmonia Mundi)
Maurizio Pollini (piano) • Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra • rec: 2005 (DG)
Andreas Staier (fortepiano) • Concerto Köln • rec: 1995 (Warner/Teldec)
Maria João Pires (piano) • Chamber Orchestra of Europe • Claudio Abbado (conductor) • rec: 1993 (DG)
Jos van Immerseel (fortepiano) • Anima Eterna • rec: 1990 (Channel Classics)
Malcolm Bilson (fortepiano) • English Baroque Soloists • John Eliot Gardiner (conductor) • rec: 1985 (DG Archiv)
Géza Anda (piano) • English Chamber Orchestra • rec: 1975 (BBC Legends)
Alfred Brendel (piano) • Academy of St. Martin in the Fields • Neville Marriner (conductor) • rec: 1970 (Decca/Philips)
Robert Casadesus (piano) • Cleveland Orchestra • George Szell (conductor) • rec: 1968 (Sony)
Géza Anda (piano) • Salzburg Mozarteum Camerata Academica • rec: 1961 (DG)
Friedrich Gulda (piano) • Friedrich Gulda und Sein Klassisches Orchester • Paul Angerer (conductor) • rec: 1960 (Vanguard)
Rudolf Serkin (piano) • Columbia Symphony Orchestra • George Szell (conductor) • rec: 1955 (United Archives)
Géza Anda (piano) • SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg • Hans Rosbaud (conductor) • rec: 1952 (Hänssler)
Edwin Fischer (piano) • Orchestra • rec: 1937 (Warner/EMI)
This is arguably Mozart’s most perfectly balanced concerto. Even the great concertos of 1786 (with the exception of K491 which, like this concerto, concludes with a very ambitious set of variations) are slightly weighted towards the first movement, with the slow movement, however affecting or enchanting it may be, acting as an interlude, a pause. Not so here. This Andante is unusually eventful and weighty. It has the breadth of some of Haydn’s late slow movements. Mozart would never write anything like this again, which can be said, also, for the Finale. These variations are as far removed from the tough, tragic, symphonic variations of the C minor concerto as anything could possibly be. This movement is like the finale of an opera buffa (you could set words to it, it would work brilliantly). But for all its playfulness and high spirits it is, again, a weighty movement—weighty, ambitious and serious in intent (and in that respect, again, not unlike Haydn).
It’s striking how many excellent recordings there are of this particular concerto. My favourite is probably Staier (fortepiano), but Pollini’s old-school account has an intimacy and a true sense of give and take that is very special (this is Pollini’s finest Mozart recording by a mile). And I’ve always had a soft spot for Anda’s way with this concerto (that’s why all three of his recordings are included—overkill, I know). Fischer’s 1937 account has some terrible cuts, but is nonetheless a lovely performance (his first movement is taken at quite a lick, which is against the norm, and very refreshing), as is the infinitely more disciplined and highly poetic and alert Pires/Abbado.
Brendel’s account with Marriner has, rather surprisingly, more character than his remake with Mackerras (the incomplete Brendel/Mackerras series as a whole I find too “clean” and generally uninspired—dull, in fact—Mackerras handling of the orchestra too grand and uncharacteristically faceless).
Immerseel’s and Bilson/Gardiner’s period versions are both highlights of their respective surveys. Neither of them, though, can match the vitality and imagination of, on the one hand, Staier (who, like Immerseel, leads from the keyboard) and Bezuidenhout with the amazing Freiburgers under Petra Müllejans on the other (a great recording!).
It’s instructive comparing Serkin and Casadesus (both with Szell, who was an outstanding accompanist in Mozart), two completely different but great and unique Mozartians. This time I prefer Casadesus. Serkin seems a bit off now and then, but he and Szell are still worth hearing.
And then there’s Gulda, who, I think, didn’t know how to have an off day. He even manages to inspire the usually not very interesting Angerer/Orchestra X combo. An ear-opening, wonderfully insightful and fun account.
Survey: Piano Concerto no 24
Survey: Piano Concerto no 25