MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 19 in F, K. 459. Piano Concerto No. 23 in A, K. 488.
Ronald Brautigan, fortepiano/Die Kölner Akademir/Michael Alexander Willens, cond.
BIS SACD 1964 TT: 50:00
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BLOCH: Schelomo. BRIDGE: Oration, Concerto Elegiaco. HOUGH: The Loneliest Wilderness.
Steven Isserlis, cello; Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Hugh Wolff, cond./Tapiola Sinfonietta/Gábor Takacs-Nagy, cond. (Hough)
BIS SACD 1992 TT: 67:40
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MUSSORGSKY-ISHIKOWA: Pictures at an Exhibition. YOSSIFOV: Toccata. SCHNYDER: Arabian Overture. BIZET: Habanera from Carmen. TUREK: Kein Liebeslied. ROSSINI-WREDE: William Tell Overture
Die Pianisten/Karlsruher Schlagzelug Ensemble
ARC SACD ARS 38 125 TT: 65:07

Dutch pianist Ronald Brautigan specializes in music of Mozart and has already recorded the composer's complete solo piano music and many of the piano concertos. He continues his concerto project with this fine disk of concertos 19 and 23. As always, these are elegant performances, crisply played on a 1992 fortepiano by Paul McNulty after an instrument by Anton Walter dating from 1795. In this recording, the fortepiano is quite recessed, almost behind the small orchestra—this instrument could have used a bit more help from the engineers. It is unfortunate another concerto wasn't included; playing time for this disk is only 50:00.

A superb SACD is In the Shadow of War featuring master cellist Steven Isserlis performing Bloch's Schelomo, Frank Bridge's Oration, a "concerto elegiaco" for cello and orchestra, and Stephen Hough's The loneliest Wilderness, an elegy for cello and orchestra. Schelomo has been a favorite since its premiere in 1917 in Carnegie Hall, and this is surely among its finest recordings. Bridge's moving Oration is his reaction to the horrors of war. Written in 1930, it is a half-hour journey through the desolate battlefield with descriptive battle and images of death. Also welcome is an impressive work by Stephen Hough showing his remarkable skills as a composer as well as a brilliant pianist. The Loneliest Wilderness originally was written for bassoon and orchestra but it was felt the cello would be a more expressive instrument, and this is what is heard on this disk. This is an impressive recording in every way, and both orchestras and conductors show the greatest sensitivity. Audio is excellent although not particularly surround. A major release in every way!

Die Pianisten is the name of a group of 12 pianists augmented by four percussionists, and they do their thing on this unusual SACD. Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition is heard in a transcription for 2 pianos with 12 hands and 4 percussion. Yossitov's Toccata uses 16 hands on 2 pianos, Schnyder's Arabian Overture has 12 hands on 2 pianos, Turek's Kein Liebeslied uses 12 hands on 3 pianos, the transcription of Rossini's William Tell Overture calls for 8 hands on 2 pianos, and most unusually, the arrangement of music from Carmen calls for 24 hands on 2 pianos—the pianists have to keep moving as only 6 pianists can fit on each piano at one time. Aside from the novelty, there's little of interest here. In Pictures, a single major pianist can do more than the six here, and percussion adds little. The only really intriguing effect is in con mortuis in lingua mortuo in which a rubber bouncy ball is drawn over the surface of a tam tam, an eerie sound indeed. The surround sound effect is limited—what a missed opportunity! Engineers could have had the pianos divided among SACD channels. This disk is supposed to play on DVD players as well as regular CD/SACD players. On my Oppo player it worked, but it was impossible to choose tracks. A forgettable SACD.

R.E.B. (March 2013)

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