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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
The composer’s own chamber versions for piano and strings
Piano Concerto no. 11 in F major K413 [21.37]
Piano Concerto no. 12 in A major K414 [23.44]
Piano Concerto no. 13 in C major K415 [25.01]
Susan Tomes (piano)
The Gaudier Ensemble: Marieke Blankestijn, Lesley Hatfield –violins; Iris Juda – viola; Christoph Marks – cello; Steve Williams – double bass
rec Henry Wood Hall, London, 15-17 April 2003
HYPERION CDA67358 [70.39]


Really, there surprisingly little to say about this disc. It is fabulous music, and you will not hear a better performance. One can be fairly certain that this will be a favourite on many people’s list for 2004 releases. The piano concertos of Mozart are so well known and uniformly admired and yet there is here something new as well as something wonderfully comfortable and familiar. The recording is of the chamber versions for piano and string quintet (a double bass having been added to Mozart’s suggestion of piano and string quartet). Mozart advertised these concertos for sale in manuscript form in 1783, and they were available in a printed version two years later. Mozart’s own advertisement states that "these three concertos, which can be performed with full orchestra including wind instruments, or only a Quattro, that is with 2 violins, 1 viola and violoncello, will be available at the beginning of April to those who have subscribed for them (beautifully copied, and supervised by the composer himself)." Although the manuscript edition proved difficult to sell, the printed edition of 1785 was a triumph and these three concertos really represent the first great concertos Mozart wrote for Vienna. Although there are no contemporary accounts of chamber performances, there must have been a good dozen such performances in private homes of connoisseurs for every performance in public with full orchestra.

Indeed, the orchestral version of the concertos has several clear disadvantages when one considers Mozart’s concerto writing style. While the interventions of wind and (in the C major concerto) drums may be lost, the compensation that comes in the clarity of texture and buoyancy of rhythm more than compensates. Mozart’s concertos always display an advanced sense of dialogue between soloist and band, and this dialogue is only increased when the concertos are transformed into chamber music, that most conversational of musical styles. In the first movement of the A major concerto, for example, we find not only dialogue between the piano and the first violin, but also between the two violins themselves. It all makes so much sense in this style that it seems difficult to believe that any other form should be possible.

The other aspect that leads one to say that you will not hear a better performance is the presence of Susan Tomes. To this writer’s ear there are few better Mozartians at the piano than Susan Tomes. She has an instantly recognisable sound, exemplified by warmth of touch but almost crystalline bell-like quality of timbre. Famous, of course, for her work with Domus and, more recently the Florestan Trio Tomes is so steeped in classical Chamber music that she appears to breathe the style with as much ease as Mozart did. Her sound is simply absolutely right for this music. There is always, in Mozart, the combination of delicate virtuosity together with melodic and harmonic subtlety. Tomes brings this aspect of subtlety very much to the fore in her performances. The balance between hands, the shape of the melodic phrase, the direction of the line; all of this is so well judged – especially apparent in the marvellous cantilenas of the slow movements. In 1777 Mozart performed in Augsburg and a local published report said "Everything was extraordinary, tasteful and admirable … the rendering on the fortepiano so neat, so clean, so full of expression, and yet at the same time extraordinarily rapid, that one hardly knew what to give attention to first …" This description fits Susan Tomes’ playing just as well, especially with its implication that, although virtuosity is present in abundance (Mozart described these concertos to his father as "very brilliant") such virtuosity is always the servant of good taste, never the master.

In this sense of good taste the playing of the Gaudier Ensemble also ranks highly. Balance and rhythm and clear and precise, the sound quality is superb and the sense of chamber music dialogue everywhere apparent. Their role is considerably subservient to that of the piano (showing the concerto aspect over the true chamber music aspect) but the combination of accompaniment and conversational partner constantly enlivens the texture and those opportunities to engage in dialogue are seized with relish. Throughout, this disc is an absolute joy. Hyperion at its best; beautifully recorded and presented.

Peter Wells


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