During his lifetime, Mozart was not only known as a prodigious composer but also as Vienna’s most virtuosic pianist. He often led performances of his concertos from the keyboard instead of the podium and his piano music contains some of his most deeply personal expressions. In this playlist, renowned pianist and conductor Jeffrey Kahane, who will lead the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra from the piano this summer, shares his favorite recordings (and a few live performances) of Mozart’s piano music. 
 

Sonata No. 10 in A minor, K. 310
Performed by Dinu Lipatti

 

One of the most deservedly famous piano recordings ever made. On this sublime recording, the great Romanian pianist and composer Dinu Lipatti, whose heartbreakingly premature death from leukemia at age 33 deprived the world of one of the greatest musicians of all time, plays one of Mozart’s most impassioned tragic utterances. This is one of the relatively rare instances where the facts of Mozart’s biography find direct expression in music. When Mozart composed this work, he had just learned of his mother’s death. Seldom in Mozart’s piano music do we hear such an outpouring of grief and despair. My own encounter with this classic recording when I was a teenager was one of those life-changing experiences which set a musical standard that has remained a touchstone for me ever since.

In addition to the studio recording, there is also a profoundly moving and virtually flawless live performance from Lipatti’s last public recital, just two months before his death.

Rondo in A minor, K. 511
Performed by Richard Goode

Richard Goode, who ranks among the greatest living interpreters of Mozart, plays the extraordinary A minor Rondo, a piece which, like the A minor Sonata mentioned previously, stands apart among the solo works of Mozart in its emotional range and depth of expression. In the span of ten minutes, Mozart creates an entire interior world.


Piano Concerto No. 19 in F major, K. 459 Performed by Radu Lupu, pianist, with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen conducted by David Zinman This performance is sheer magic from beginning to end. Both Lupu and Zinman are Mozarteans par excellence and while this concerto is in some ways more unassuming than some of the grander concertos that followed it, its sparkling finale is one of Mozart’s supreme tours de force.

Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, K. 491
Performed by Edwin Fischer, pianist and conductor, with the Royal Danish Orchestra

The Swiss pianist Edwin Fischer was not only one of the most important pianists of the first half of the 20th century, but one of the few of that time who conducted from the keyboard as Mozart did. Alfred Brendel, who considers Fischer one of his most important teachers, had this to say about him in an essay he wrote:

“Edwin Fischer was, on the concert platform, a short, leonine, resilient figure, whose every fibre seemed to vibrate with elemental musical power. Wildness and gentleness were never far from each other in his piano-playing, and demonic outbursts would magically give way to inner peace.”

His recordings of Mozart piano concerti are exceptional for their almost demonic intensity, and there is no better example of this than his recording of Mozart’s most only truly “tragic” concerto, the C minor Concerto, K. 491. This is also the only concerto of Mozart’s to use both oboes and clarinets in the wind section.


Piano Concerto No. 17 in G major, K. 453
Performed by Kristian Bezuidenhout, fortepiano, with the Freiburger Barockorchester led by Petra Müllejans

Kristian Bezuidenhout, the young South African fortepiano virtuoso who has been taking the world by storm, has made some of the most beautiful, imaginative, and breathtakingly spontaneous recordings of Mozart piano concerti I have ever heard. For those who enjoy the sound of period instruments, there are simply no greater artists than Bezuidenhout and the astonishing players of the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, who are absolutely equal partners in this performance of one of Mozart’s most effervescent “operas without words.” There is also video of spectacular live performance of one of the concertos on my own Mostly Mozart program, the concerto in E-flat, K. 482.

 

Kleine Gigue in G, K. 574
Adagio in B minor, K. 540

Performed by András Schiff

Here are two mysterious small masterpieces by Mozart, a witty Gigue, which recalls the final fugue from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier in its wildly chromatic contours whose high spirits belie the contrapuntal compositional virtuosity. The mysterious Adagio in B minor is as profound a piece as Mozart ever wrote in spite of the fact that he almost certainly wrote it in a single sitting on a bleak March day. Particularly interesting is that he wrote no other single movement in this key.

Alfred Einstein calls the B minor Adagio “one of the most perfect, most deeply felt, and most despairing of all his works. About this latter work it is hard to arrive at a definitive conclusion. Its major ending indicates that it may have been intended for a Sonata in E minor. But such a piece, without any further ʻpurpose,ʼ may simply have flowed from Mozartʼs pen in an hour at once tragic and blessed.”

The great András Schiff plays both pieces magnificently.


Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466
Performed by Clara Haskil, piano, with the Winterthur Symphony Orchestra conducted by Henry Swoboda

Piano Concerto No. 13 in C major, K. 415
Performed by Clara Haskil, piano, with the RIAS Symphony Orchestra of Berlin conducted by Ferenc Fricsay

Of all the great pianists and musicians of the 20th century, Haskil, who like Dinu Lipatti was born in Romania, is one of those whose artistry is closest to my heart. When Haskil made her debut with the Boston Symphony in the 1950s, the critic for the Boston Herald called it “one of those most magical revelations that occurs in music once in a generation.”

Both of these performances are among my favorite Mozart concerto recordings, but I especially recommend listening to the magical Concerto in C major, K. 415 (one of several Mozart wrote in that key), which is among the most under-appreciated of his concertos and one of the least known by the general public. It is also one of Mozart’s most formally inventive concertos.


Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat major, K. 595
Performed by Sir Clifford Curzon, piano, with the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Benjamin Britten

This is, without a doubt, among the most beautiful and perfect performances of any Mozart work ever made. Sir Clifford Curzon, like Clara Haskil, was among the most self-effacing of interpreters, and his playing in the slow movement of this final and most serene of Mozart’s concerti achieves a level of Zen-like simplicity that is like heavenly balm in these times of pain and darkness. His collaborators here are Sir Benjamin Britten—of course one of the towering giants in the history of Western music—conducting the outstanding English Chamber Orchestra.


Murray Perahia’s Complete Cycle of Mozart Piano Concerti

No playlist of Mozart’s piano music would be complete without mentioning Sir Murray Perahia’s complete traversal of the Mozart piano concerti. There is not one among these performances that is not superb, and many of them rank among the greatest Mozart performances ever. As with the Curzon/Britten recording just mentioned (and, incidentally, Curzon was Perahia’s partner for performances of four-hand music and clearly had a profound influence on him), the English Chamber Orchestra, directed by Sir Murray himself, is the orchestral partner on these recordings.


The Full Playlist


About the Curator

Equally at home at the keyboard and on the podium, Jeffrey Kahane has established an international reputation as a versatile artist, recognized by audiences for his mastery of a diverse repertoire ranging from Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven to Gershwin, Osvaldo Golijov, and John Adams. The 2016–17 season will be Mr. Kahane’s 20th and final season as music director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.