is third disc of Mozart concertos from Christian Zacharias
and the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra. Zacharias has been artistic
director and principal conductor of the orchestra since 2000.
His first disc featured Concertos 22 and 27 (MDG 340 1182-2),
his second Concertos 9 and 11 (MDG
In Piano Concerto 17 the orchestral introduction is
sprightly, light and airy too, but capable of opulent tone
in particular providing warmth to the second theme (tr.
1 1:12) without any slackening of the overall progress. The
chief impressions are of teeming activity and sheer joy.
Zacharias’s solo entry increases the sense of merriness.
Then, when he introduces the third theme (3:10), he offers
the contrast of elegance, as he also does with his later
presentation of the second theme. The development finds
him in more musing mood accompanied by the deftest of woodwind
tracery, piano and orchestra and its constituents seamlessly
blending together. In the recapitulation the third theme
is displayed more brightly. In the cadenza Zacharias combines
fluency and charm with a poise that comes from well judged
variation of pace within a generally relaxed manner.
compared another piano conductor with chamber orchestra account,
that by Howard Shelley and the London Mozart Players recorded
in 1991 (Chandos CHAN 9068). Here are the comparative timings.
introduction has a grander, even sprightlier manner than
Zacharias. His piano solo entry is more urgently projected.
He introduces the third theme more lightly and treats the
second theme more gently. His development is more alert yet
varied in piano shading. Both performances are pleasingly
elegant, Shelley more assertive, Zacharias more intimate.
What is notable about Zacharias is the greater relaxation
in the smoother second theme and the sense throughout of
closer interplay between piano and orchestra, most especially
in the development, doubtless aided by the pleasing clarity
of the surround sound recording with more glowing acoustic
and bass offsetting the lighter, smaller body of strings
than Shelley’s. Zacharias’ piano is firmly focussed, possibly
even a shade too present. His cadenza also has more density.
orchestral introduction to the slow movement begins tenderly
yet the forward progression of this Andante is maintained.
There’s a strong sense of unanimity of feeling, the woodwind
in accord all contributing to the same song. The tuttis are
firm but not massive. Zacharias’ solo at the piano’s first
entry, more contemplative, makes for a smooth transition
to the new theme it introduces in G minor (tr. 2 2:00) which
hovers on the edge of pathos. Later, beginning the interlude
in D minor (3:53) Zacharias has a more distant, chilly manner,
a sensitive contrast but in keeping with the florid yet heartfelt
aria that this movement presents. Zacharias brings a fittingly
reflective quality to the cadenza but also a sense of resolution
and finally even playfulness, neatly anticipating the finale.
Shelley’s orchestral introduction is balmier but more self
conscious than Zacharias. Shelley makes the rhetoric of the
piano’s cantilena part of the power of the statement whereas
with Zacharias the ornamental devices within which the firm
statement is encased are clear, which makes its progression
more readily appreciable. The outcome is also a more carefree
mood, less inward than Shelley’s. Zacharias’ cadenza here
has poise and spaciousness though it’s more objective than
Shelley’s sensitive, aching interpretation.
relationships are noticeably well conceived in this recording,
so the finale’s Allegretto is nicely paced between
the first movement’s Allegro and second’s Andante.
This results in a very neat but also smiling and chirpy
presentation of the theme at the outset on first violins
and flute, yet
with the second violins’ counterpoint evenly and pleasingly
balanced alongside. Variation 1 (tr. 3 0:48) finds Zacharias
at ease luxuriating in the chromatic descents, with occasional
help from the strings. He’s equally laid back in decorating
the flute lead in Variation 2 (1:36) but the enjoyment of
all is evident. He’s more frisky in Variation 3 (2:24) after
the blithe interchange of oboe, flute and bassoon, but more
respectful in a hushed Variation 4 (3:16) where the sky is
clouded in G minor. This is swept away by the vigour of Variation
5 (4:16) but the manner gradually becomes more gracious.
The coda, admittedly marked ‘finale’, is separately tracked
(tr. 4), which isn’t really necessary but all is conveyed
with light verve, an attractive blend of elegance and spirit.
a faster Allegretto Shelley’s finale is more outwardly
bubbling and consciously virtuosic. The flute lead in Variation
2 is livelier, the coda friskier. Zacharias’ steadier presentation,
however, has a courtly elegance and inner content. The
progression from the opening to the first variation is
smoother and the
feeling of piano and orchestra complementing each other
stronger. Zacharias also finds a wider range of mood with
4 more wistful, dreamy and sensitively shaded before a
robust Variation 5.
Concerto 18 is less suave but
more bubbly than Concerto 17. Zacharias makes the orchestral
introduction to the first movement graceful yet pleasingly
sprung and buoyant. Here I compared the account by Richard
Goode and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra recorded in 1996
(Nonesuch 7559-79439-2). The comparative timings are:
presents with a straightforward directness and admirable
neatness where Zacharias goes for a more rounded quality.
Zacharias finds more expectancy and excitement in the transitional
theme (tr. 5 0:30) and his sforzandi effects (e.g.
0:45) are more lightly applied, his second theme (1:05)
creamier, third theme (1:42) sprightly and dainty where
happy just to be brightly distilled. Goode’s account has
a more disciplined sense of structure where Zacharias has
a more relaxed, softer focus. As pianist he contributes
an easygoing, light-hearted ebullience and while his runs
an impression of more momentum this is finely balanced
with the orchestra in accompaniment often savouring the
both together securing a more joyous atmosphere than Goode’s
high spirits. Goode’s development is his time for more
relaxation where Zacharias (5:20) is fluent and whimsical
wide ranging modulations. Zacharias reveals the masterly
combination in Mozart’s cadenza of florid display, thematic
clarity and reflective grace. Goode is more openly virtuosic
but Zacharias’ greater internal contrast of pace brings
more variety of mood.
seems to inhabit the grief of the G minor slow movement
from the inside whereas Goode contemplates it from the
Zacharias brings a gently plaintive quality to the theme
but there’s a gradual revelation of the cumulative weight
of sorrow through the first three variations. There’s a poised
presentation to Variation 1 (tr. 6 1:36), the piano’s floridity
here put to the service of depth of expression. In Variation
2 (3:12) the piano assuages the intensity and slight increase
of momentum of the woodwind opening. Variation 3 (4:44)
is made an orchestral climax of stark, raw emotion, the
endorsing and clarifying the feeling. Variation 4 (6:16)
brings the sudden, welcome balm of G major which finds
Zacharias and his orchestra with an intent gaze, as if
This sense of strangeness continues as they are more comfortable
and flowing with the return to G minor in Variation 5 (7:30)
in whose coda (8:30), transfixed by the four notes opening
the theme, Zacharias slows a little as if freezing time,
fascinated by the beauty of this grief. So in this movement
Zacharias finds an expressive and colourful romanticism
without detriment to classical form and scale. Goode remains
objective. In the climactic Variation 3 the orchestra is
more frenzied, the piano more coolly reflective. The relief
of Variation 4 is gratefully accepted but the restlessness
of the movement opening returns in Variation 5 with a feel
of classical probity and decently contemplative coda.
been more reserved in the slow movement, Goode is more
vivacious in the rondo finale. Zacharias, more eloquent
in the slow
movement, is here more mellow. He handles the transitional
theme which opens the first episode (tr. 7 1:10) in a more
reflective manner and the dancing second theme (1:50) isn’t
as high kicking as Goode’s. Zacharias’ eingang, the
short improvisatory passage at 3:01, less showy than Goode’s,
simply echoes the violins and violas in a slightly slower
rhythm. Zacharias’ second episode (3:40) is cloudier but
not as forcefully sullen as Goode’s. Yet, except for the
initial two sforzandi, it isn’t marked louder and
Zacharias blends it seamlessly with the return of the transitional
theme and his sober take on the dancing theme. He also brings
more glow to the stealthy return of the rondo theme on first
oboe and second horn beneath the piano decoration. His cadenza
glitters yet has slightly more reflection and less froth
than Goode’s. In sum, Zacharias’ Mozart is generally quite
laid back but he gives well considered performances which
repay the repeated listening a disc allows.