Music Reviews - Beethoven, Mozart & Mendelssohn on SACD

      Date posted: October 22, 2005

Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos. 2 & 4
Stephen Kovacevich, piano;
BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir Colin Davis

Pentatone Classics 5186 101 Hybrid SACD/CD

Pentatone Beethoven Piano Concertos

      The piano is quite prominent in this 1974 recording, but what playing! I think I can forgive the Philips engineers for putting Stephen up front and miking the piano to be quite wide. The orchestra is well heard, with a big soundstage and good depth, typical Philips of the period. The string sound is excellent, with a nice texture on violins, violas, and cellos.

      Of course, when this recording was made, the pianist was known under his adoptive name of Bishop, later becoming Bishop-Kovacevich, and then his current birth surname. I’ve seen him quite a few times live, and he never failed to impress with his sensitivity and delicacy, especially in Beethoven. And here he doesn’t disappoint.

      In the slow movements he excels, playing with a measured beauty that few other pianists can match. If you don’t already have this recording in another format, it’s worth acquiring even if you don’t have an SACD player. It’s proof audibly that the best analog (and Philips were very good at it) was better than any digital until the present, and it is ironic that the SACD format shows off how good these masters were in the 70s. Which leads us to…

Mozart & Mendelssohn Violin Concertos, Schubert Rondo
Vasko Eschkenazy, violin

Concertgebouw Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Marco Boni
Pentatone Classics 5186
001 Hybrid SACD

Pentatone Mozart and Mendelssohn Violin Concertos

      This is a very good recording and an excellent performance of lesser known work by these great composers. Eschkenazy plays a Guarneri from 1738, and it sounds absolutely glorious, especially in SACD sound. The Mozart Concerto No. 5 in A, KV 219, is, by turns, lively and sweet, with very nice cadenzas completing the first two movements, while the Mendelssohn Concerto in D-Minor is more classical in character then the famous E-Minor, and was the composer’s first attempt at a violin concerto, written when he was 13. It is a lovely work that has been in the shadows for too long, probably neglected as Romanticism overtook the music world. Beautifully recorded, this is a disc to treasure, the Schubert Rondo in A sweet icing on a very tasty musical confection. The sound is excellent, with warmth, depth, and detail, especially in SACD.

Andrew Marshall

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