This recording arose from the research project ‘Jupiter: Mozart in the nineteenth-century drawing room’, led by Professors Mark Everist and David Owen Norris at the University of Southampton, and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.
Mozart arranged some of his own piano concertos for domestic performance and there are several recordings of Nos 11-14 in this format. There are also recordings of chamber arrangements of some of the other concertos by other composers, but this is, to the best of my knowledge, the most complete album of its kind.
Naxos have recorded Alon Goldstein with the augmented Fine Arts Quartet in Piano Concertos Nos 20, K466 and 21, K467. I thought that these small-scale arrangements would make a fine addition to a Mozart library which also contains the originals but Jens F Laursen was far less impressed. Whatever else you may think of that Naxos CD, it’s rather short value, which certainly cannot be said of the new Hyperion, especially if you choose the download version, available in 16-bit, 24/96 and 24/192 formats.
Of course, a great deal is lost in these domestic arrangements. At the very start of the first track, the mighty chords which summon our attention in the Zauberflöte Overture sound rather like St Paul’s proverbial tinkling cymbal, but much is gained, too, in hearing details which can be missed in a full-blown orchestral recording.
Hummel’s arrangement of the Figaro Overture comes out rather better, with the scurrying violin passages sounding well under David Owen Norris’s fingers on the piano. It’s a Broadwood instrument from 1826, sounding more like a fortepiano than the modern grand and ideal for the music.
Cramer’s arrangements of K467 were never published, but Professor Owen Norris has squirreled out a three-stave manuscript of the parts for what he calls the ‘Jupiter’ ensemble of flute, violin and cello. You need to download the album to enjoy the 1827 ‘London’ version and compare it with the 1836 ‘Munich’ version, which is included in both formats. Those who purchase the CD can download the bonus tracks from Hyperion free of charge.
I enjoyed hearing these two versions of the so-called ‘Elvira Madigan’ concerto, very soon after praising the recent Chandos recording of K466 and K467 from Jean-Efflam Bavouzet and the Manchester Camerata. I was far from alone in recommending the Chandos, but the new Hyperion makes for a most interesting and enjoyable pendant. Having written that I’m now likely to choose the Bavouzet recording above my earlier favourites I now expect to turn to Hyperion for K467 in preference to the Naxos recording. The slow movement, as used in the film, has a delicacy in this account which achieves its effect without any trace of undue sensibility, at least as well as my favourite period-instrument recording from Ronald Brautigam (fortepiano) and the Kölner Akademie (Nos 14 and 21). At 7:30 in both versions on Hyperion it’s taken more slowly than by Bavouzet and much more slowly than by Brautigam—more slowly even than by Géza Anda in 1961 (DG, the recording used for the film)—but without any sense of dragging the music out. With all the laughter of Mozart’s music captured in the rondo finale, the album is worth the asking price for these two performances alone. If the Naxos recording casts an interesting sidelight on familiar music, the new Hyperion is rather more.
Inevitably, the Clementi arrangement of Mozart’s grandest symphony, the Jupiter, though it lends its name to the whole project, suffers some diminution of its grandeur. Though it’s surprisingly less diminished than the Zauberflöte Overture, I’m not sure that I shall want to listen to this part of the recording too often. The symphony as a cut-down piano concerto effectively becomes a different work, though one that's enjoyable in its own right.
Writing before the release of the recording, I’m not sure which track Hyperion will offer as a sampler, but they always offer short previews of each track from their website and I suggest that you try those of the symphony to make your own decision. It’s not all loss, however—as with the other music here it’s possible to hear inner details which are easily lost in full-scale performances. And, along with the rest of the programme, I cannot imagine a better realisation of the arrangement.
It’s become almost routine for me to have to warn readers of huge variations in pricing policy; in this case, the dealer price for the CD varies from £12.75, reduced to £11.50, to £17.17. The Hyperion downloads range from £8.99 (16-bit) via £13.50 (24/96) to £15.75 (24/192). Be warned that the 24/192 is a very large file. The CD direct from Hyperion costs £10.50.
Given clear recording to complement the performances and a very informative set of notes from David Owen Norris and Mark Everist, this is a fascinating release. I shall certainly be returning to these arrangements of K467 and the Figaro Overture, perhaps less often to the other works, but it’s all very well done.