Album Title: Mozart Piano Concertos No. 20 & 27
Performers: Clifford Curzon, Benjamin Britten/English Chamber Orchestra
Label and #: Esoteric Decca 90014
Play Time:
Recorded: September 1970, Snape Maltings, UK

Some places just resonate with memories of great music. The Snape Maltings concert hall in Suffolk, UK is one such place, home as it is to the famous Aldeburgh Festival founded by Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears and Eric Crozier in 1948 and being intimately linked to the Gustav Holst library. Why do I mention the Snape Maltings hall? Because it takes a venue of character and excellence to create a moment of magic like the one that was recorded by Decca back in September 1970.

I already knew Britten to be one of the finest Mozarteans of the previous century, having a unique sensitivity for the subtle orchestral constructions that Wolfgang Amadeus left us and his directing the English Chamber Orchestra on this recording only confirmed my impression; but until now I had not necessarily associated Curzon with Mozart and this disc shows how wrong my perception was.

I am not quite as familiar with the 20th piano concerto but Mozart's last composition for the genre, his Piano Concerto No. 27, is a concert and recording favorite for all pianists of fame. I have heard it played live by Maria Joao Pires, Martha Argerich, Murray Perahia; and by Alfred Brendel and Rudolph Serkin on disc - yet Curzon surprised me. His interpretation is as classical as can be yet the nuances he brings to the phrasing
and his subtle touch on the ivories are unique indeed. What kept surprising me throughout the 27th concerto is how Curzon lets the notes float in mid-air, suspended, fragile and ephemeral. This is never more true than in the opening bars of the second movement where the first initial notes played by the solo piano before the orchestra enters are surreal, suspended in the middle of the hall's acoustics and slowly fading away.

Curzon planned on recording an even more definitive interpretation of this concerto which obsessed him to the extreme but his passing away prevents us from knowing what he considered his ultimate legacy to Mozarts' 27
th. His vision of 1970 which he resisted publishing for eight long years is the closest we'll ever have of knowing what he intended to deliver. One can regret that the last recording never took place - or rejoice that this jewel was preserved and has now been brought back to even greater splendor through Esoteric's remastering.

This disc is the second in Esoteric's 20th Anniversary series after Beethoven's Overtures and it has the signature sound of Decca's finest recordings of the 1970s, detailed and open, with a wealth of subtle tonal hues and imaging to die for. Esoteric's work seems to have preserved most if not all the master tape information with its hall acoustics, chair creaking and tape hiss but what matters is how the soul of the music is presented so truthfully, unhurt and pristine. Curzon's piano is sized appropriately against the orchestra, and placed in a warm and slightly reverberant environment that beautifully enhances his subtle touch. This disc is not as much of a show piece as the Beethoven recording but in a way, its technical achievements are even greater by how they preserve the ephemeral nuances of Curzon's phrasing. Those nuances separate a good version from a great one and preserving them separates a great mastering job from an average one. Is this the ultimate recording of Mozart's 27th piano concerto? Possibly, although I have not heard them all. It is certainly the ultimate I know.