replay: Robert Cowan makes his pick of the latest reissues

Mozart: Piano Concertos No 23 and No 26 'Coronation' Friedrich Gulda (piano) Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra / Nikolaus Harnoncourt (Recorded: 1983) (Teldec 4509-97483-2)
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The Independent Culture
Right from the opening bars of the Coronation Concerto you can tell that there's something special in the offing. Harnoncourt's conducting has a sense of import that borders on the imperious, though by "slimming down" certain string passages (ie, having them played by one instrument per part), unfamiliar textual contrasts are brought to the fore. Gulda, ever provocative but profoundly musical, joins in with orchestral tuttis, warms the solo line with expressive arpeggios and indulges the odd extemporisation (always with the utmost subtlety and taste). His touch commands plenty of colour, and yet there's a Bachian purity to his playing - especially at the start of the A major's soulful Adagio.

Try, by way of a sampling point, the Concertgebouw's bold attack 7'21" into the Coronation Concerto's first movement, then wait for Gulda's manly response. It's very much a case of two minds working as one, with incisive phrasing that's never cold, and some exquisitely tooled articulation. Tempos throughout are fairly regular and the recording, which was made at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, has a full, "open" quality that suits the performances. Great stuff, and a useful corrective to the Dresden china-style of playing that shifts Mozart out of the stream of life and into the mists of musical history. Brahms: Chamber music for strings Budapest Quartet, Alfred Hobday and Hans Mahlke (violas), Anthony Pini (cello) (Recorded: 1933-1936) (Biddulph, LAB 120-121, two discs) Take a warm summer's evening, a glass of good wine and this set of CDs, and you'll be in seventh heaven. The music itself is essentially mellow and ruminative, a warming though eventful journey into the spiritual interior of a great Romantic. It's the sort of repertory that implies profound poetic dialogue beyond the reach of words. And, as chamber music recordings go, the Budapest's pre-war Brahms - which, in these superb transfers, sounds remarkably vivid - remains unrivalled. Certainly no later version of the Third Quartet makes the opening Vivace so ebullient, the Andante so full of wistful sentiment, or the chugalong finale so witty or easy- going. The Second Quartet wears a relatively sombre countenance, but the two Quintets parade just about every aspect of Brahms's mature style.

The First features a glowing second movement that recalls - at least initially - the great Clarinet Quintet, whereas the Second opens with such unstoppable excitement that you could as well be listening to a chamber symphony. But perhaps the greatest performance of all features the G major Sextet - a half-hour survey of musical mood-swings, from pensive introspection, through the breeziest of dance sequences, the saddest of elegies and a "happily ever after" finale that will send you to bed rested and content.

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