Mozart Early Piano Concertos

Malcolm Bilson has been in the forefront of the period-instrument movement for over thirty years. A member of the Cornell Music Department since 1968, he began his pioneering activity in the early 1970s as a performer of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert on late 18th- and early 19th-century pianos. Since then he has proven to be a key contributor to the restoration of the fortepiano to the concert stage and to fresh recordings of the ‘mainstream’ repertory. In addition to an extensive career as a soloist and chamber player, Bilson has toured with the English Baroque Soloists with John Eliot Gardiner, the Academy of Ancient Music with Christopher Hogwood, the Philharmonia Baroque under Nicholas McGegan, Tafelmusik of Toronto, Concerto Köln and other early and modern instrument orchestras around the world. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by Bard College and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The American Classical Orchestra celebrates classical music performance on authentic instruments, specializing in repertoire from the 17th to 19th centuries. Founded by music director Thomas Crawford in 1985 as the Orchestra of the Old Fairfield Academy, the Orchestra works to render more faithfully music of the Baroque, Classical, and early Romantic eras. In 1999, the orchestra’s name was changed to American Classical Orchestra. Interested in reviving and preserving the art of playing period instruments, the American Classical Orchestra also fosters the education of musicians and the public in authentic performance technique.


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When listening to Mozart’s mature piano concertos, which are amongst his very greatest compositions, it is easy to forget that even he had to learn how best to write such works, and had to experiment in the form. What better way of experimenting than to use existing material provided by other composers and to see how sonata movements by different composers could be turned into concertos. That is what Mozart did with the works included in this set, which is in effect a kind of pendant to the wonderful recordings of the mature concertos that Malcolm Bilson made with the English Baroque Soloists. The first four concertos make use of music by Raupach, Schobert, Homauer and C.P.E. Bach. Despite their varied background and the help - or at least assistance - given by Leopold Mozart in their composition they are surprisingly effective. The performances here are suitably fresh and rhythmically alive, with some lovely sounds from the orchestra using period instruments and the fortepiano, a 1990 copy by Thomas and Barbara Wolf of a Schanz instrument from the 1780s.
The three concertos K107 are all based on sonata movements by J.C. Bach, and unlike the earlier concertos are scored very sparsely for two violins and bass – the same small group used to accompany the so-called “Epistle Sonatas” for organ and strings, also written in Salzburg. They are delightful pieces, more interesting in many ways than the earlier concertos as they are based on more interesting music. Again, they are not amongst Mozart’s most important or profound works but they are surely amongst the most easily enjoyable, especially when played as persuasively as they are here.
In addition to the seven concertos the set includes the Symphony No. 14, a pleasant piece if one which slips easily from the memory as soon as it has finished, though it is given a clean and vigorous performance.
What we have here is a well presented selection of music by Mozart from his early years, well played and clearly if somewhat closely recorded, and offered at bargain price.
John Sheppard, musicweb-international

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