March 2006

Mozart - Piano Concertos Nos. 5, 12, 13, 14 & 23; Rondo in D, K.382
Jeremy Menuhin, piano & conductor, English Symphony Orchestra
Nimbus NI 5749/50
Format: CD
Released: 2005

by Richard Freed

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

Jeremy Menuhin’s first recording was a Menuhin-family LP celebrating his famous father’s 50th birthday in 1966. Father Yehudi appeared not as violinist but as conductor of Mozart’s concertos for two and three pianos, with his highly regarded sisters Hephzibah and Yaltah as soloists in the former and his young son Jeremy joining them in the latter.

Forty years on, here is Jeremy alone in a two-disc set of Mozart solo concertos, conducting from the keyboard, as Mozart himself did, in one of the most heartening releases of its kind in years. It contains Mozart’s earliest wholly original keyboard concerto (plus the alternative finale he provided after settling in Vienna), three of his hardly overexposed early Viennese concertos, and one of the three towering ones he composed while working on The Marriage of Figaro.

These engagingly straightforward performances are as welcome for what they are not as for what they are. Straightforwardness here does not mean a lack of personality, but the character seems to rise from the music itself rather than being laid on from outside. Nowhere is there the slightest hint of "This is my Mozart!" There is no preciousness, no gratuitous underscoring of the genuine emotion in the remarkable slow movement of K.488, no attempt at making the modern piano sound like a different instrument, and no spotlighting it by relegating the orchestra to the background. The two elements are beautifully balanced and we hear them in the sort of intimate dialogue we usually associate with chamber music.

The bottom line is that the wonderful music comes to life on its own terms. The sound is beautifully tailored to the musical content, and the promise implicit in labeling this set "Volume One" is most welcome, too.