Review by steviev October 17, 2009 (4 of 5 found this review helpful)
|This is the first of two complete SACD sets featuring four Mozart piano sonatas "touched-up" by Edvard Grieg; the other set is on 2L. I would not be surprised if a 2L producer heard this set and thought to himself, "We should do that... but better." And so they did, in my opinion.
But first this MDG set, performed by Duo Trenkner-Speidel. Overall, tempos are fairly consensus, certainly in the fast movements. In K545 and K283, the slow movements are a bit stately, but not much slower than usual. Then things get very ponderous in the middle movements of K533 and K457. Is it the molto in "Andante molto" and "Adagio molto" that made them do it this way? Or are they evoking some sort of bloated 19th-century approach to Mozart slow movements? I half-considered researching this, but then realized: who cares? Because whatever the reason, it doesn't work. The K475 Fantasy gets the same treatment. At least we are spared the second repeat in K533.
Now Trenkner-Speidel play outer movements with lots of excitement and brio -- these are big, hearty performances. There is a certain appeal to this, but I find their approach to be fatiguing over time. Their bass tone here is poundy and aggressive, and takes a toll on the ears. The Dena Piano Duo on 2L are poised and elegant, their slow movements flow like oil, and they make for better sustained listening. Plus bass is tight on the 2L disc, thanks in no small part to the native (5.1) subwoofer channel. The only downside to 2L's recording is a thumpy pedal in K545.
MDG's pianos sound modern, and are in good shape. Unlike the 2L set, there is some air between the instruments, with the piano on the left playing Mozart's original and the right playing Grieg's blandishments. The separation is not exaggerated -- about what you would hear if you were sitting on stage a few feet away from them. Each part is given equal prominence by the performers, which might sound ideal. The problem is, Grieg's Lisztian keyboard stylings tend to bury Mozart's lean two-part writing, so the logic of the music is sometimes lost in a welter of thunderous chords, scales, and tremolos. 2L's more unified piano sound gives prominence to the primo so Grieg's additions are not aurally overwhelming. Overall, 2L's balance is more pleasing if less stereophonic.
The sonatas take about 100 minutes, so Trenkner-Speidel fill out their set with a four-hand arrangement of Grieg's Peer Gynt suites. Playing here is perfectly fine and enjoyable, though the piano they use has an occasional twangy burr in the upper register. The Dena Duo fill out their set with Mozart's Sonata for Two Pianos and a two-piano variation work by Grieg, which seem like more apt couplings. I have not heard that disc, so I cannot comment.
The 2+2+2 programme is more spacious and atmospheric than the stereo or 4.0 programmes, but does not make a huge difference. This recording shows less benefit from the 2+2+2 technique than any other I have heard; those with a conventional surround setup won't miss much here. Though it would have compromised the stereo effect somewhat, I wish MDG had recorded the pianos from a greater distance. This might have diminished the bass impact and taken better advantage of the 2+2+2 sound. As I said, this set tires the ears, and is best taken in small doses.
MDG currently sells this set at full price. If they instead sold it at as a twofer, I could recommend it as a lusty alternative to the Dena Duo. Until that time, I would urge anyone interested in this repertory to seek out volume 1 of the 2L set. (See Mozart, Grieg - Dena Piano Duo).
Note: For those with a 2+2+2 setup, I was able to mellow the sound a bit by turning down the rear speakers. This creates a less immersive but more comfortable experience.
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