Period Instruments

Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 26

I listened to two performances of this piano concerto:

  1. Christopher Hogwood | Robert Levin | Academy of Ancient Music (
  2. Sándor Végh | András Schiff | Camerata Academica des Mozarteums Salzburg | Decca Music Group 2016

One noticeable difference between performances by the Academy of Ancient Music and more modern performances is the layout of the orchestra – the cellos and basses are placed towards the centre with second violins and violas to their right, and the piano is embedded within the orchestra instead of at the front of the stage.

The main difference in the sound between the two performances of this particular piece comes from the piano which has changed radically since Mozart’s time; the early instrument created a much quieter, thinner tone which decayed very quickly, as a result sounding considerably more percussive to my ears. The woodwind instruments also look very different to modern instruments – the flute for example has a conical bore.  I think the difference in sound in these instruments is less pronounced than with the piano, but it seems to me that the wind section can be heard more clearly over the strings in the modern performance.

Another major difference between the performances is the pitch – the Academy of Ancient Music play the concerto at a lower pitch than today’s standard A440.  The style of playing is also quite different, the strings use much less vibrato than they do in the modern performance. The dynamic range used in the piece is significantly larger in the modern orchestra, and overall the sound is more resonant. It’s interesting to hear it played in a historically informed way but generally I think I prefer the full sound and expressive potential of the modern piano and orchestra for this work.

Haydn: Symphony No.79

Ottavio Dantone | Accademia Bizantina | Decca Music Group 2016

The Accademia Bizantina is an Italian early music ensemble. I really liked their performance of this Haydn symphony – it has a real clarity about it.  Style wise it has a lot in common with the Academy of Ancient Music’s performance of the Mozart, for example minimum vibrato on the strings. In this particular symphony the woodwind are often doubling the melodies on the strings, and I think the tones of the instruments blend well –  it definitely creates subtly different sound colours to a modern orchestra.



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