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Franz Xaver MOZART (1791-1844)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, Op. 14 (1805)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in E sharp major, Op. 25 (1818)
Henri Sigfridsson, piano
International New Symphony Orchestra (INSO) Lemberg/Gunhard Mattes
Recorded July 2003
NOVALIS 150 175-2 [51:00]


Do the offspring of famous composers tend to have great musical skills and inspiration? Usually not, but Franz Xaver Mozart is among the exceptions. To be honest, although I knew that Franz Xaver was Wolfgang's son, I had no idea that his music is so compelling with many striking similarities to his father's.

Franz Xaver was only four months old when his father died, leaving his musical education to his mother Constanze who ensured that he received excellent training starting at two years of age. Teachers of the young Mozart included some illustrious composers of the time such as Hummel, Haydn and the ever-suspicious Salieri. As time progressed, Franz Xaver attained a highly successful musical career and was especially valued as a pedagogue. That he never achieved the popularity of his father is understandable. However, the two piano concertos on this Novalis disc reveal a superb composer whose relative neglect is very disappointing.

I mentioned earlier that the music of the son bears a striking resemblance to his father's. This is most noticeable in the silky-smooth orchestration/piano parts and the perfect balance between the piano and orchestra. At all times the music flows with a graceful elasticity reminiscent of Wolfgang, and the aesthetics and constant supply of melodic material are also similar. Actually, I wouldn't flinch if told that the two Franz Xaver Piano Concertos were really composed by Wolfgang during the period in which he wrote his Piano Concertos Nos. 11-13.

Both Franz Xaver piano concertos are of an upbeat nature, although the 1st Movement of Op. 25 possesses a more serious demeanor than its Op. 14 counterpart. With few exceptions, each outer movement is delightful and energized. Musical arguments are not made from deep in the soul, but they sound natural and definitely progress with logic and wonderful harmony. The slow inner movements show abundant poignancy, about on the same level as Wolfgang's music in the early 1780s.

The obscurity of Franz Xaver's music is matched by that of the INSO Lemberg, conductor Gunhard Mattes, and pianist Henri Sigfridsson. Obscurity aside, these performances are exemplary in all respects. The playing is always supple, crisp, and exuberant in the outer movements, while the performers adapt well to the slower and sadder inner movements. Particularly impressive are the performances of Sigfridsson who gives each work the fluid and organic treatment so necessary to bring out the composer's idiom. I don't know how Sigfridsson would fare in a dramatic Mozart concerto, but the two here fit him like a glove.

The Novalis soundstage is excellent, although a shade on the dry side. The piano displays ample bloom, and the conversations between piano and orchestra are well projected and detailed. The orchestral sound is slightly restricted, but not damagingly so. Those who insist on the rich orchestral sound that we get from the Chandos or Telarc could have a problem with the Novalis sound.

Concerning alternative recordings, there is a disc on Koch Schwann that pairs the two concertos. It is conducted by Ronald Bader with Klaus Hellwig on piano. These are fine performances, but I prefer Mattes and company for their lighter and more rhythmically active treatment of the music. These distinctions are perhaps academic, because I can find no evidence that the Koch disc from the early 1990s is currently in print.

In conclusion, anyone who treasures the piano concertos of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart will surely be delighted to encounter those of his son Franz Xaver. Be assured that these performances do full justice to the composer, and I heartily recommend that readers investigate this very attractive release.

Don Satz

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