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.
This work is very hard to characterize emotionally, but it sighs and it sings enigmatically. Surprisingly, so many performances are very straightforward, never capturing these soulful, longing qualities that almost approach reverie at times. Not so this time. The interplay here is amazing, Pires' delicate approach is ideal for this music, and the conducting is elastic in that "Furtwanglerian" way. But don't get the impression this is bloated, Romantic Mozart…it's not. (Maybe Furtwangler wasn't the right name to evoke after all.
Maria-Joào Pires has recorded these concertos before, for Erato, and this experience shows in assured playing. In K449 I find the sound of the Vienna Philharmonic, recorded in Vienna's Musikverein, too big: the string section seems large and the hall over-reverberant. Furthermore, the piano sounds plummy, and even those who dislike the fortepiano may question its suitability. With these reservations, one can enjoy Pires's deft and sensitive performance, without strong individuality but offering consistent intelligence, and the brisk finale shows her and Abbado at their best. Even so, this is a romanticized slow movement; the gooey orchestral sound does not help, but the pianist is also partly responsible in a way that I have sometimes noted in her performances of Mozart's sonatas.