Mozart vol9 CHAN20286

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Piano Concertos – Volume 9
Overture to Die Entführung aus dem Serail, K384 (1781-82)
Piano Concerto No. 11 in F, K413 (1782-83)
Piano Concerto No. 12 in A, K414 (1782)
Piano Concerto No. 13 in C, K415 (1782-83)
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano)
Manchester Camerata/Gábor Takács-Nagy
rec. 2023, The Stoller Hall, Hunts Bank, Manchester, UK
Cadenzas by Mozart
Chandos CHAN20286 [78]

The Overture to The Abduction from the Seraglio starts with soft, expectant strings from the Manchester Camerata and Gábor Takács-Nagy. 5 seconds later the loud tutti sound as of the Turkish janissary band erupts, triangle, cymbals and bass drum in full force. Mozart shields our ears by continual contrast of loud and soft. The final exuberant extension of the theme (tr. 1, 1:05) respectably shapes an otherwise orgy of gleefully repeated notes. More contrast comes in a central Andante section (1:27), quite formal dance, varied in mood, climaxing with a commanding oboe solo. Takács-Nagy’s rip-roaring heartiness delights.

From Piano Concerto 11 I select its Larghetto slow movement. Serenade-like, it also has the feel of an operatic aria in the piano’s continual elaboration of the melodic line. Jean-Efflam Bavouzet honours Mozart’s intricate decoration with only occasional, appropriate additions. An attractive feature is the involvement of more ‘characters’: the wind who echo in agreement the end of the first phrase of the first violins’ opening theme and more intimately later the violins alone interplay sighs to the piano’s lead (tr. 3 from 3:59). Earlier, the piano’s recall of less happy experiences is marked with more alarm by the wind and strings’ community’s sfp chords (e.g. 1:50) but then smoothed over by the piano, whereupon the strings have their own, memorable comforting motif (2:21). The responds gleefully and, upon returning to the opening theme, freely yet graciously elaborates it in demisemiquaver runs. A codetta (4:42) effectively brings a new strain, sunnily expansive. Mozart’s cadenza (5:37) begins musing on the strings’ comforting motif and continues a suave precis of the movement’s contentment and disquiet. The orchestral coda briefly recalls the opening theme and its pleasurable effect.

I compare Alexander Schimpf, piano-conductor of the Bavarian Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra (Avi-Music AVI8553112), recorded 2019, which offers one of alternative accompaniments Mozart devised for K413-15, here performance with strings alone. I didn’t find this a disadvantage. In the Chandos recording I feel the wind are over prominent, partly because the strings are marked sotto voce. The Bavarian Orchestra is beautifully sweet and high strings’ sfps are easier on the ear than from woodwind. Interplay between piano and strings is good, the piano line fluent and clean. But Schimpf is more commanding, less collaborative than Bavouzet. Schimpf’s own cadenza offers more focus on the opening theme, then discordant responses, intimate and personal, restored by a varied recall of the codetta.

With Piano Concerto 12 I select the first movement. In the orchestral introduction the opening theme on strings has an unassuming grace, while its tutti second part (tr. 5, 0:28) is brighter, more assertive. The second theme (0:55) shows community sensitivity, the agreement at the ends of phrases by violas significant, the woodwind sustained chords another presence. The piano enters with the first theme, adding more decoration and pizazz, then takes up (2:29) and expands the concluding phrase of the orchestral introduction so there seems no end to its invention spontaneously created. At the return of the second theme the piano adds a descant upper layer (3:25), Bavouzet with the utmost assurance and conviviality. He introduces the third theme (4:24) of operatic leaps and theatrical sense of triumph. Again, the orchestral community is sympathetic, enjoying imitating Bavouzet, who makes it all sound so easy. No wonder he plays Mozart’s Cadenza B, the brilliant one with high-jinks.

I compare Matyáš Novák with the Wihan Quartet, recorded 2020 (Nimbus NI 6419), string quartet the minimal alternative backing group. The outcome is the most spontaneous performance I’ve heard, cheery animation and clarity of line throughout. Novák’s piano is buoyantly direct, less smooth, more assertive than Bavouzet, especially in the low left-hand contributions. He adds an eingang (mini-cadenza), a spectacular ascending rise after Mozart’s descending glissando (5:37 in Bavouzet), though I prefer Bavouzet’s just pause and silence, making the calm recapitulation of the opening theme more effective. Novák plays his own cadenza, beginning with the piano’s expansion of the orchestral introduction and making extensive, ingenious use of its five-note motif opening and new modulations, creating more a melodic than bravura homage.

With Piano Concerto 13, I select its finale’s contrast of opposites. A jolly C major Allegro Rondo theme, piano first, then tutti, all frisky. A serene second part (tr. 10, 0:20), benign third part (0:39), beautifully contrasted by Takács-Nagy. Bavouzet’s second solo entry is a C minor Adagio tragic arioso as first episode (1:27), prepared by Bavouzet adding an eingang in Mozart’s pause between two three-note sequences of the preceding tutti’s concluding chords (1:00), then a second eingang (1:07) to introduce the episode. After these solos, you appreciate the strings’ sympathetic accompaniment and oboes and bassoons’ solemn witness. A third Bavouzet eingang (2:37) smooths the transition to the Rondo theme return. A fourth (4:04) is, unusually, Mozart’s rather than the performer’s. Next, a second episode (4:58), purposeful, growing more playful. The return of the third part of the rondo theme (5:48) continues to the original introduction’s concluding chords. Just one Bavouzet new (fifth) eingang now (6:27), followed by the pleading part of a second (first at 1:10). This Bavouzet now assigns to solo oboe before his repeat of the tragic arioso. Now Mozart’s second eingang, the sixth (8:15) ushers in the final return of the rondo theme and surprise of a refreshingly peaceful ending. Eingangs exist to alert the listener to a change of focus, especially here the alternation of joy and sorrow; but for me too many distract from that change. Mozart having contributed two weakens the case for more. Also, however beautiful, assigning an eingang to another solo instrument is rearrangement.

I compare Roman Borisov with the ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien/Howard Griffiths, recorded 2022 (review). Timing at 8:03 to Bavouzet/ Takács-Nagy’s 9:29, Borisov/Griffiths offer a more compact movement of smoother, sunnier, serenade-like progress. Bavouzet’s third eingang is Borisov’s first, then he adds just Mozart’s first and his own, shorter version of Mozart’s second. But Bavouzet’s playing of the Adagio material is more eloquent and Takács-Nagy gets more character from his orchestra.

Michael Greenhalgh

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