What may well be not only an irresistible record of Mozart piano concertos, but a downright indispensable one, has just been issued by Deutsche Grammophon. Tamas Vasary is both soloist and conductor -- with the Berlin Philharmonic, no less -- for performances of Concertos Nos. 14 in E-flat (K. 449) and 26 in D major (K. 537, the socalled "Coronation" Concerto), on DG 2531.207 (cassette 3301.207).
K. 449 has never been one of Mozart's most popular works, though it is a very special one in its category, as he himself noted. It is not so much a display piece as an intimate one, and in fact was originally written as a sort of extended chamber music, for piano and strings alone, with winds added later for an alternative rather than definitive version (though that is the version always performed now). K. 537, on the other hand, has always been very popular, but it has also been regarded as a relatively weak link in the distinguished chain of what many consider Mozart's finest body of instrumental work. This release could well serve to make K. 499 a good deal more popular and K. 537 a good deal more respected, for neither work has ever been better served, at least via recordings.
Listeners who know Vasary only through recordings may be more surprised to find him performing Mozart than to find him conducting, but Washingtonians have had opportunities to hear him conduct Mozart programs in appearances with the National Symphony Chamber Orchestra in 1977 and '78, and he has been conducting, with emphasis on Mozart, in various parts of the world since 1973. As stylish and tasteful as his recorded Chopin, Liszt, Debussy and Rachmaninoff have been, it is this Mozart record that certifies him as an important musician.
There have been other fine recordings of K. 449 -- two by Rudolf Serkin, one by Peter Serkin, the earlier of the two by Alfred Brendel outstanding among them -- but this expansive and poetic reading by Vasary seems to probe a little deeper, without in any way diminishing the ingratiating charm that lies closer to the surface of the work. K. 537 has simply never received quite so convincing a realization, and has never seemed so strong a work. In its two outer movements Vasary is as expansive as in K. 499, but in the slow movement he moves along a little more briskly than most other interpreters, and the crispness and flow he achieves in this section add substantially to one's impression of the entire concerto.
Vasary does not play Mozart's own cadenzas in K. 537, by the way, since they are actually written for a much earlier concerto in the same key (the delicious but seldom heard No. 16, K. 451); he provides candenzas of his own, which suit the work superbly. The conducting is hardly less than thoughtful or less admirable than the solo playing: at every step of the way the orchestra is beautifully integrated with the piano, and the Berlin winds are encouraged to be at their most eloquent. The sound, too, is first-rate. Let us by all means have more of the concertos from this team!
No stranger as either conductor or Mozartean, surely, is the venerable Karl Boehm, whose recordings of two Mozart serenades appear on another new DG release -- the Serenade No. 9 in D for large orchestra, K. 320 (with the posthorn), played by the Berlin Philharmonic, and No. 13 in G, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (K. 525), with the strings of the Vienna Philharmonic (2531.191).
Actually, this recording of the "Posthorn" Serenade has been around for several years, coupled with the little Serenata Notturna, K. 239 (2530.082). Since that record is itself a gem -- surely the finest versions of both works since those of Peter Maag on London -- it does seem odd that DG would recouple K. 320 with Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, a work so abundantly available that it is almost impossible to avoid duplicating it in a collection of any size. This is a very special performance, though. It makes no pretense at capturing the chambermusic essence of the work, but frankly embraces the big orchestral string style associated in the past with Bruno Walter.