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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 - 1791)
Concerto for Piano no 8 in C major, K 246 (1776)
Concerto for Piano no 6 in B flat major, K 238 (1776)
Concerto for Piano no 9 in E flat major, K 271 (1777)
Gerritt Zitterbart (piano)
Schlierbacher Chamber Orchestra/Thomas Fey
Recorded Germany, June 2000
HÄNSSLER CLASSIC CD 98.378[73:57]
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The rationale for this grouping of three earlyish Mozart piano concertos is a neat one - they were all played by Mozart at a concert at Munich in 1777 when he was en route from Salzburg to Paris with his Mother. This was to be a major tour, the first undertaken without his father, which took in Mannheim where he fell in love with Aloysia Weber (later marrying her sister) but ended in tragedy in Paris where his Mother died.

The concertos were written within about a year of the Munich concert and they show Mozart developing and making his own a genre in which he was later to produce outstanding masterpieces. The last written of the three, K271 in E flat major, is widely regarded as a major step forward on the road to those great works. It is certainly the best known and most recorded of the three so there is competition.

These are zesty, straightforward performances but what characterises them most of all is the way the orchestra aims at an C18th style of playing. But the players are using modern instruments which poses a real problem. Modern wind instruments are mostly quite different from those of Mozart's time although the players do have some leeway in making them sound 'classical'. The Schlierbach Chamber Orchestra partly gets around this, inconsistently, by apparently using "authentic" valveless horns thus achieving an attractive, punchy, rasping sound. The strings have the best chance of sounding authentic for the instruments are less changed over the last two or three hundred years. There is an aggressive lack of vibrato in the playing and the result is a quite satisfying penetrative tone that shines through even when the strings are in subordinate role. Note how the long notes of the violins ride the piano shortly after its entry in the first movement of K246 (TRACK 1, 1:07). It takes good players and ensemble work to maintain impeccable intonation when playing like that and this is well achieved here.

Now to the problem: the piano used in the recording, a Bösendorfer grand. There is nothing the player can do to make a modern grand sound like a fortepiano of the period. Matching players who are trying very hard to sound notionally classical with a modern piano seems to me a bizarre idea. There is an unresolved contradiction in style. Now this is personal I know, but after listening to the whole disc and returning to it again I still did not get used to it. If you are stuck with modern instruments as in this situation I would prefer a good old-fashioned modern performance - as it were. This is successfully on offer, for example, in the recent re-issue of EMI's Classics for Pleasure version of K271 with Stephen Hough and the Hallé Orchestra where there is a consistency and homogeneity of sound that may not satisfy authenticists but has stylistic logic to it. I realise we are in subjective territory here and much depends on what you are used to.

The piano playing of Gerritt Zitterbart is extravert and direct and in this aspect of style does fit in well with the orchestra and the interpretations under conductor Thomas Fey. The last movement trips splendidly along (TRACK 9) although in K271 Richard Goode’s Nonesuch recording of 1998 propels even more. The slow movement of K271 has a clean beauty (TRACK 8), different from Mitsuko Uchida whose outstanding performance of this work, now available on a Philips double CD collection of her work, is a thoughtful one that aims at depths plumbing in the slow movement. Some though may find her style a trifle mannered and may prefer Zitterbart’s approach.

So those who, unlike me, can tolerate the hybrid nature of the approach to authenticity may well find these performances very satisfying. The sound has a good combination of ambience and clarity and the grouping of three concertos from the same period, matching that concert in Munich in 1777, certainly makes for an interesting package. There is a nice booklet with substantial notes although it is naughty of Hänssler to put a picture of a period fortepiano on the front cover. It won’t make that Bösendorfer grand sound like one.

John Leeman

 


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Piano Concerto in C Major KV246
Allegro aperto

Andante

Rondeau. Tempo di minuetto

Piano Concerto in B flat Major KV238
Allegro aperto

Andante un poco adagio

Rondeau : allegro

Piano Concerto in E flat Major KV271
Allegro

Andantino

Rondeau: Presto - menuetto - tempo primo




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