cover portraits go, this is a good one. The soloist Martin
Stadtfeld looks in the full bloom of youth - just 25 at
the time of this recording - personable, fully focused
and eager to communicate. His playing is like that too
in this impressive concerto debut. The back cover promises
a ‘highly distinctive and fresh interpretation’. Now that’s
an arguably overreaching claim. But between the covers
there’s some moderately heavy scholarly articulation by
Stadtfeld on writing a cadenza. Conductor Bruno Weil, better
known in recordings for his performances with period instruments,
comments on the orchestral contribution. Of Mozart’s twenty-one
fully composed concertos for solo piano, only two are in
a minor key and both are presented here. Of this coupling
there’s only one pure digital recording currently available
in the UK on a single CD. Unfortunately for Stadtfeld the
other pianist is Alfred Brendel.
the case of Piano Concerto No. 24 this comes across
as a fresh view in which Stadtfeld and Weil are close collaborators.
Whether it works for you is another matter. The emphasis
is on fluency and objectivity. So if you like your Mozart
meltingly lovely or rampantly stormy this won’t be for
you. The leap at the end of the phrases of the first movement
first theme is strictly staccato on its first, orchestral
appearance and always very lightly articulated by the pianist
and therefore seems clipped, giving it a quizzical quality.
The piano’s opening solo is a little impetuous. On the
other hand, with smooth, fleet treatment the third theme
(tr. 1 4:24), exchanged across the woodwind, appears kaleidoscopic.
There’s a pleasing directness about the following piano
presentation and something of a wistful quality brought
to the return of the third theme.
cadenza by Mozart having survived, Stadtfeld provides his
own. It begins with a recall of the opening piano solo
against bell-like trills which gradually become more insistent,
clamorous and they too have a clipped character. These
merge into a jollier, Bach-like, version of the tail of
the second theme which becomes more romantically passionate
and then raptly meditative. At just short of three minutes
this is a lengthy but imaginative, involving cadenza and
the whole performance comes more alive as a result, with
a suddenly fiery coda to follow.
slow movement is consistently eased smoothly forward in
the same manner as before, but with an attractive softening
at the piano’s first repetition of the theme (tr. 2 0:33)
and judicious decoration just before and at this and the
later fermata (1:00, 5:04). By such touches Stadtfeld does
make his assured performance of this movement distinctive,
apart from - at a total time of 6:27 - being faster than
most recorded performances. Again come the kaleidoscopic
wind in the first episode (1:22), a mood well matched by
the piano. The second episode (2:55) is presented in a
gorgeous unaffectedly blithe way.
finale is also exactingly taken faster than usual. The
second orchestral statement repeat is enlivened by some
added piano punctuation (tr. 3 0:41). Stadtfeld provides
a strong lead in the variation featuring martial dotted
rhythms (2:31). This has pace and purpose. The variation
in C major (5:13) which might provide some hope is given
a light and evanescent character. Stadtfeld opts for the
restraint of a brief flourish at the cadenza point to place
more weight on an alluring presentation of the 19 bar solo
bringing in the coda.
how does Alfred Brendel with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Charles
Mackerras (Philips 4626222) compare? There’s more emotional
engagement, more fiery tuttis. The soloist’s opening is
more contemplative, with more feeling for the individuality
of the phrases. The third theme is sunnier. Brendel also
provides his own cadenza, a terser one, with always a thematic
link to Mozart. It has a robust start before it dwells
on and transforms the third theme.
slow movement, timed at 7:01, has a touch more spaciousness
and singing quality, the refrain a kind of steady state
serenity, with a more animated first episode and warmer,
but rather over impulsive, second episode. Brendel’s finale
has clarity and again steadiness of presentation. The martial
variation is broader, the C major one sunnier, the brief
cadenza a touch more elaborate.
can understand K466 being placed second as it’s Mozart
even more outside the comfort zone. The orchestral introduction
begins lightly but restlessly, soon to be followed by stark
sforzandos of brutal impact. The opening piano solo is
cleanly dispatched, the treatment of the third theme (tr.
4 3:48) only a brief respite wanly glimpsed within the
overall severe logic. When the cadenza comes there’s suddenly
more colour and weight of tone, as well as a greater range
of drama and more mellifluous treatment of the third theme.
This is partly because this cadenza is by Beethoven, a
green light for more romantic interpretation. But this
also suggests there’s been overmuch pianist restraint before.
You can play Mozart like Bach (Stadtfeld’s two previous
CDs being of Bach), but not Beethoven.
second movement Romance, without any tempo indication,
is here taken quite fast. Engagingly shaped, it flows serenely
enough. The piano’s elaboration of the opening theme (tr.
5 1:31) is pleasingly, daintily shaded. The central section
in G minor (3:18) comes as a sudden shock but the transition
back to the opening is deftly achieved.
rondo finale is marked very fast and so played, a tremendous
white knuckle ride of an orchestral introduction, the quavers
grittily articulated. Then the piano joins the roller-coaster,
arguably at too much expense to some thoughtful material
in the opening solo and in the impulsive, peremptory manner
later (e.g. at tr. 6 2:46). Weil’s notes make specific
reference to the authentic use of hand-stopped horns at
the start of the development section (2:35), making the
chromaticism sinisterly different in timbre. A second Beethoven
cadenza is given full value by Stadtfeld in its opening
warmth and then flights of fancy before the D major episode
ending to the work is realized without any feeling of contrivance,
owing to the smooth treatment of its earlier appearance
in major keys (1:57).
in comparison Brendel and Mackerras bring more involvement
through telling moments like the very slight easing in
tempo of the soft, three-note echo near the end of the
orchestral introduction, so it becomes a real sigh. Similarly
the opening piano solo has more of a personal, vocal quality
and Brendel’s treatment of the second theme is more of
a gentle contrast. Brendel uses his own cadenzas, which
to me sound Lisztian, this first one melodramatic.
second movement is more smoothly curvaceous than Stadtfeld’s,
more assured, even with a touch of frivolity in its finesse.
Brendel’s finale - also featuring hand-stopped horns -
is steadier than Stadtfeld’s.
think the Philips disc has two other advantageous differentiating
factors. First, the Philips recording is more immediate
and airy where this Sony recording, though with a natural
balance, is a little more set back in a less glowing acoustic.
Second, the use of a chamber orchestra brings a more intimate
collectivity to its expressiveness. Good though the NDR
Sinfonieorchester is here, there isn’t the same sense of
personal identification with the works.
conclude, this Stadtfeld and Weil combination is all well
thought through, but that’s part of the problem. This is
scrubbed up Mozart, very clean, crisp and admirably fluent,
but the effect can at times be over dispassionate in its
objectivity. The interpretation therefore only really comes
alive sporadically, for instance in the cadenzas or the
central section of K466 second movement. But when it does
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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