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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Concerto in E flat major for two pianos KV 365 (316a) (1779) [23.14]
Concerto in F major for three pianos ĎLodron Concertoí KV242 (1776) [20.49]
Concerto in E flat major for two pianos KV 365 (316a) (1779, revised 1782) [23.46]
Alexei Lubimov (fortepiano) (piano 1, KV 365/piano 2, KV 242); Ronald Brautigam, fortepiano (piano 2, KV 365/piano 1, KV 242)
Haydn Sinfonietta Wien/Manfred Huss (fortepiano) (piano 3, KV 242)
rec. Floriankirche, Straden, Austria, September 2006
BIS SACD1618 [69.02]



While browsing the classical music section in a CD shop or surfing the internet for recordings of work by great composers, you may stumble across this CD. In all probability you will quickly dismiss it as yet ďanother Mozart recording, as if we hadnít enough alreadyĒ and quickly move to the next offer, indifferently shrugging your shoulders. Well, one may be forgiven for doing so, particularly following 2006 and the celebrations of Mozartís 250th birthday, where one would chance upon Mozart or his work nearly everywhere. However, in the case of this particular item it would be a huge mistake. This is a truly lovely recording, with original instruments, beautifully played, with devotion and care. It is also possibly the closest you will ever get to how it would have sounded, performed by the composer himself, had the technology been available to capture it when Mozart was alive.
 
The first piece, Concerto in E flat major for Two Pianos KV 365, also known as Piano Concerto No. 10, was the last of Mozartís piano concertos written in Salzburg, before he left for Vienna. He composed it for his sister Nannerl and himself, and right from the start, it is obvious that she was also a gifted keyboard performer. In this recording, the piece is performed in its two versions: the original from 1779, with a small orchestra, and the other from 1782 with an extended orchestra, which deservedly gives it a certain grandeur. The work is built in three movements and is challenging for both soloists. The parts for the two pianos are equally assigned and Mozart was careful to divide up the most striking and virtuosic passages evenly between the two solo players. The first movement, Allegro, opens with a long, ambitious orchestral introduction. Both pianos finally enter together, briefly alternating introductory phrases, as if exchanging ideas with each other, to then join again in the first theme. A second theme appears afterwards, more dramatic, giving briefly the impression that something bad might be about to happen, but this never takes place. The orchestra puts an end to it by repeating the opening and leading the movement to its finish, a beautifully fluid cadenza and coda. This is brilliantly delivered by Alexei Lubimov, who plays piano 1, and Ronald Brautigam, who plays piano 2. It is all done in a suitably witty, playful and charming manner and one can imagine two siblings performing and enjoying themselves together. This fact was natural for both Wolfgang and Nannerl, who were used to performing together from a very young age but who also understood and liked each other on a personal level. The musical rapport between Lubimov and Brautigam is already present in this first movement and does justice to the Mozart siblings.

In the second movement, Andante, slow and refined, they continue the playful dialogue as if engaging in a healthy, joyful competition. After the introductory theme, a minuet, by the orchestra, the same theme appears in the pianos, divided into two solo passages to allow the soloists to demonstrate their skills individually. The two pianists soon seem to flow together again, as the movement progresses, nicely leading and accompanying each other, beautifully alternating with the orchestra though it suitably stays in the background allowing the two keyboard performers to shine. This movement finishes almost abruptly, to take us into the finale, Rondeau, Allegro, wonderfully scored by Mozart to the instruments of his day. It has such size and power that one cannot help but wonder what he would have achieved with modern day grand pianos. Again, Lubimov and Brautigam, excel and deliver the piece perfectly, with rhythmic drive and equal elegance both in the lyrical graceful passages and in the exuberant return to the main rondo theme. They left me enchanted, wishing that I could have been present to participate in such musical joy.

To my mind, the greatest achievement of the two soloists is undoubtedly the fact that very often one wonders if there are two pianos or only one, though some of the score would be physically impossible for one soloist. Without the actual view of the two pianists on stage, it is difficult to believe that, in some passages, we are listening to two distinct people. We have in Lubimov and Brautigam, two musicians of unquestionable virtuosity, who perform the piece on the fortepianos of Mozartís time and, I believe, as the composer intended, telling musical stories playfully to each other while interfacing and alternating with the orchestra, who also use period instruments. The Haydn Sinfonietta Wien plays wonderfully throughout, suitably cushioning the two soloists, taking them along or gently conversing. Manfred Hussís direction is expertly sensitive and delicate throughout, demonstrating his great understanding of the period instruments and of the capabilities, not only of the soloists, but also of his musicians. Clearly he feels comfortably at home with the orchestra he founded in 1984 and has led ever since.
 
The other piece, in this wonderful recording, is the Concerto in F major for Three Pianos KV 242, also known as Piano Concerto No. 7 or the Lodron Concerto. The name Lodron refers to the fact that this was a piece commissioned by the Countess of Lodron for herself and her two daughters. Mozart completed and presented it to her in 1776, aged only twenty. As he frequently did on such occasions, the composer geared each part to the performer who would play it, with the degree of difficulty adjusted to the differences in skill and experience. In this case, two of the solo parts are moderately difficult, while the third, for the younger of the two girls, is carefully written with fewer technical difficulties. The contribution of the third piano is much more modest and in fact the piece loses little when transferred for two soloists. A few years later, Mozart actually composed a different version for only two pianos, which he performed, for the last time, in 1780, in Salzburg, with his sister Nannerl. The fact that the solo parts do not require virtuoso performances, has sometimes caused the work to be dismissed as one of Mozartís weaker pieces, however it cannot be rendered unimaginative. One should never forget that he composed it, not for himself but for three lady amateurs who were his students and who naturally wanted a piece that would give delight to themselves as performers as well as to their guests as listeners.

The first movement, Allegro, has an almost roaring opening by the orchestra and soon the combined presence of the three soloists produces rich, though not complex counterpoint, maintaining a charming, pleasant quality throughout, delicate and enchanting, almost feminine in style. These attributes are repeated in the third and final movement, Rondeau, Tempo di Minuetto, as the name indicates, like a minuet, which gives each soloist considerable attention, allowing them to shine as individuals though assigning to the orchestra the responsibility of building up to a dramatic finale. It is the second movement, Adagio, which contains expression equal to Mozartís greatest works, defined by its lyrical, melodic passages. The two soloists from the Concerto in E flat major for Two Pianos, Lubimov and Brautigam, are here joined by Huss who conducts the orchestra from the keyboard, playing the third piano part. They deliver it with the same delightful, joyful enthusiasm which they had previously applied to the more virtuosic parts of the Concerto for Two Pianos. The result is totally charming, delicate, pleasantly poetic and entertaining, perfectly interpreting the composerís intentions of making his three lady students shine in the presence of their guests. Again the Haydn Sinfonietta rises to the occasion, enhancing the performances of the three soloists, as well as carrying out the responsibility given them by the composer to deliver the more complex, dramatic parts, as the countess and her two daughters were moderately skilful performers.
 
The sound of the fortepianos and the orchestra is gloriously pure and clear throughout, giving the concertos a fresh, crystalline quality and purity of tone that I have seldom heard. The technical superiority of the SACD hybrid disc is very obvious, leaving one wondering why the record labels do not do more of these, particularly for classical compositions.
 
In short, this CD is a delight from begin to end. It will make you want to see and hear the two pieces performed live because only then can one fully enjoy the virtuosic playfulness and beauty of the musical interchange between the two pianos in the Concerto in E flat major; not to mention the pure divertimento of the Concerto in F major, which is a recreational, uplifting and entertaining.
 
Margarida Mota-Bull
 



 


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