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Michael Ullman
Fanfare, March 2011

This is not the first recording of Mozart piano concertos I have heard that features a string quartet (arranged by Mozart himself) rather than a chamber orchestra, but it is among the most ingratiating. Mozart described these concertos as “very brilliant, pleasing to the ear, natural without being vapid. There are passages,” he continued, “written in such a way that the less learned cannot fail to be pleased, though without knowing why.” Three cheers for the happy less learned, and for the genius who could hit such a mark seemingly at will. I quote Mozart, as did the annotator here, because Robert Blocker and this bright young quartet elegantly enact his description, playing naturally, brilliantly, and unaffectedly. They are sensitive, joyous, and beautifully in tune with each other’s phrasing. Playing with a quartet, Blocker moderates his dynamic range, and he moves the music right along. There are no sighing moments, even where other pianists linger. No matter. This is an utterly charming recording. There are many others, of course, especially of K 414; besides the complete concertos of pianists such as Perahia and Buchbinder, I am facing the recordings by Pollini, Pires, and Shelley, among my favorites. Yet this new recording is different; its true rival may be the Susan Tomes on Hyperion, who has recorded the concertos with a string quartet with the addition of a double bass.

Richard Haskell
The WholeNote, December 2010

In January 1783 there appeared an advertisement in the Wiener Zeitung from no less a composer than Mozart who was announcing the publication of three new piano concertos that could be performed “either with a large orchestra…or merely a quattro, that is, with 2 violins, 1 viola, and violoncello.” These concertos were the first Mozart wrote after his move to Vienna in 1781, and are presented here performed by the Biava Quartet with pianist Robert Blocker.

The Biava was formed at the Cleveland Institute of Music in 1998, and since then, has gone on to win top prizes including the London International Competition and the Nuremberg Chamber Music Award. The American-born Blocker has enjoyed a multifaceted career as pianist, educator (at Yale University), and music advisor for such prominent institutions as the Avery Fisher Artist Program, and the Curatorium of the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest.

What a joyful sound these musicians create—this is surely “Mozart with a smile on his face!” The Biava plays with a keen precision, providing a solid accompaniment for Blocker’s lucid and sensitive interpretation. This most sympathetic pairing between quartet and piano is clearly evident, for example, in the cheerful opening movement of concerto No.12, the languorous second movement of No.13, and the sprightly finale from the fourteenth, all duly presented in a stylish manner of which Mozart surely would have approved. Indeed, to my mind, the smaller resources found here result in a wonderful sense of intimacy, transporting the listener from the vast space of the concert-hall to a private chamber in 18th century Vienna.

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