The sixth disc in this highly acclaimed series combine two works in which Mozart's powers as an orchestrator come to the fore. Concerto No. 18 in B flat major, K 456, is sometimes referred to as one of the composers military concertos on the basis of the march-like main theme of the first movement. But more striking is the variety of ways that Mozart employs the various groups of instruments: strings, wind instruments and, of course, the piano. This aspect certainly didn't pass unnoticed by a listener as initiated as Mozart's father Leopold: in a letter to his daughter Nannerl he described how his enjoyment of the orchestral interplay had brought tears to his eyes.
Ronald Brautigam, with the congenial support of Die Kölner Akademie, under Michael Alexander Willens, here performs Mozart’s Piano Concertos Nos. 24 and 25, both composed in 1786. The C major concerto is in fact one of the most expansive of all classical piano concertos, rivalling Beethoven’s fifth concerto. Their grandeur immediately made them popular fare in the concert hall – Mendelssohn, for instance, had No.24 in his repertoire through the 1820s and 1830s.
One hates to admit it, but at this point in his career, pianist Maurizio Pollini is no longer a Mozart player. Although a supreme virtuoso, a passionate intellectual, and a consummate artist, Pollini has grown too brilliant, too intense, and too calculating for Mozart. Pollini's tone is crystalline, his textures are transparent and his tempos are perfect in this breathtaking 2005 recording of the G major and C major piano concertos, but it all seems too cold and too objective. Although he is also directing the Wiener Philharmoniker from the piano, this doesn't seem to encumber Pollini's virtuosity in any way; indeed, he appears to enjoy the challenge, audibly coaxing more force from the musicians' playing.
Midem Classique Award winner Christian Zacharias continues his survey of Mozart Piano Concertos as both performer & conductor. Featuring arguably 1 of the most famous, the A Major. MDG’s complete recording of Mozart’s piano compositions with Christian Zacharias in the double role as pianist & conductor of the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra continues with KV 488, certainly the most-performed piano concerto by the great Salzburg composer, complemented here by KV 246 & KV 175, Mozart’s very 1st piano concerto.
This volume in the series seems to have taken a step up, with playing which previously might have been a little cosy now edgier & with more contrast in light & shade. The overall ensemble is excellent, & these are very good Mozart concerto interpretations indeed. Sound quality is up to MDG’s usual high standard, with a well-scaled ambience in Mch, & the 2+2+2 channel setup with height channels works fine in my 5.1 setup, despite my not reassigning the centre & sub speaker.
In this 3rd volume, Zacharias’ Mozart becomes essential, if not quintessential, in a universe for piano & concerto that is fascinating. The Concerto for Piano & Orchestra #17 in G major KV 453 dates from 1784, & inspired the musician Alfred Einstein to say: “In a friendly key are hidden many mysterious smiles & painful wounds – words cannot be found to describe the permanent irisation of feelings in the 1st movement, the passionate interiority of the 2nd.”
Will listeners raised on virtuoso performances of Mozart’s piano concertos be able to make room in the hearts for Christian Zacharias’ recordings with the Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne? It depends on how willing they are to forego the pleasures of virtuosity for the pleasures music-making. This is not to say that Zacharias isn’t a virtuoso pianist. As his 20 years of recordings make very clear, he has talents & abilities far beyond those of most mortal pianists.