It's wonderful to have this Mozart recording on CD. Originally recorded in 1975, produced by the glorious Charles Gerhardt, it is remastered here by Ivory Classics in 2006. The booklet does not indicate if this was originally released on RCA or Reader's Digest, so I do not know its exact history. Glorious music-making abounds in these readings, with a sense of spontaneity ever-present. Unfortunately, there are some issues with tuning and piano maintenance to contend with.
In nearly every selection, one of the pianos is a bit out of tune and sounds clangy, clanky and brighter than the other piano. And in the Concerto for Two Pianos, the orchestra is tuned slightly sharp to the pianos, exacerbating the tuning problems. This latter issue may bother some less than it does me; it isn't egregious, just enough to annoy those who are sensitive to such matters. One wonders why this was not corrected as the sessions continued, for it persists in all three movements - which is a major pity. Second, and less serious, is that both pianists play with more pedal than often heard in Mozart these days. And while the orchestra plays with brilliant articulation and boisterous energy, the big-boned approach often lends a Beethovenian feel to the work.
The sound is good, but not what one would expect from a modern, digital recording. There is a bit of raw, thinness on violins, and that out-of-tune piano often sounds unrefined. But the hall acoustic is nicely caught and the balance between orchestra and pianos is natural. The orchestra makes a splendid, bold contribution to the music-making.
Turning to the Sonatas, the players sound more secure, easing up on the pedal considerably. The Sonata for Four Hands is nicely played and enjoyable. And even though the piano used for this work sounds to have been freshly tuned, it still has a bit of clang to it in the upper registers. The Sonata for Two Pianos returns us to the more obvious sonic issues heard in the Concerto. However, it is one of the quickest and most vivacious accounts I've ever heard! It is spectacularly played by both players and is simply exhilarating. Piano health is easily overlooked with playing this invigorating.
In sum, this disc is a wonderful tribute to Earl Wild playing the music of a composer he recorded very little of. Only his fabulous Reader's Digest recording of Concerto #21 comes to mind (available on a 1998 Ivory Classics CD release entitled Earl Wild Goes To The Movies). However, tuning and piano maintenance issues are certainly a detriment to its overall satisfaction. Ivory Classics has done a great service resurrecting these wonderful recordings from obscurity and I'm confident they have done everything possible during the remastering process to try to minimize the sonic problems. Assuming it's inherent in the original master tapes, that alone might explain its obscurity.