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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-91)/ arr. Johann Nepomuk HUMMEL (1778-1837)
Piano Concertos: No. 20 in D minor, K466 (1785) [31’48]; No. 25 in C, K503 (1786) [33’09].
Fumiko Shiraga (piano); Henrik Wiese (flute); Peter Clemente (violin); Tibor Bényi (cello).
Rec. Bavaria Studios, Munich, Germany, on June 7th and 9th, 2003. DDD
BIS CD1147 [65’27]


Full marks to BIS for presenting these arrangements and opening the window onto how one of Mozart’s own students saw two of the ‘biggest’ of his teacher’s concertos. Hummel studied with Mozart from 1785-1787 (contemporary, therefore, with the works on this disc). German-based Japanese pianist Fumiko Shiraga and her friends play the arrangements for all they are worth, as if daring us, the listeners, to hear them as ‘second-bests’ at our peril. Fascinating, also, are the decorations to the solo line courtesy of Hummel. He can hardly be blamed for these – he was a major virtuoso in his own right, and they give us insight into how Mozart was viewed at this time and what liberties might have been taken. What’s more, they are never overblown or unstylish.

This is not the first disc of this type to come from Shiraga’s fingers – she has recorded chamber versions of the Chopin Concerti for piano, string quartet and double-bass (CD847) and the first two Beethoven Concertos (with the Bremen Soloists, CD1177). Shiraga plays with the utmost musicality, a trait shared equally by her partners here. Scaling down the forces for the ‘Sturm und Drang’ of the Don Giovanni-isch D minor and the large gestures of the grandiose C major, K503 may seem a risk on Hummel’s part, but it certainly pays off. Perhaps what makes the disc work so well also is Shiraga’s attention to detail, be it phraseology, pedalling, articulation or tonal shadings.

It is admittedly very strange to hear the piano joining in the opening tutti of the D minor, a sort of cross between continuo and proto-soloist, and the magic of the piano’s quiet first entry is somewhat diminished because the contrast of timbres is, naturally, spoilt. Here it emerges from the preceding music. Still Shiraga goes on to delight the ear with even and clear semi-quavers. She only gets carried away at one point (an octave ascent at 7’29). But the really interesting aspect on this is the extended cadenza (by Hummel, of course). Harmonically more daring than its surroundings and quite wide-ranging in its emotional scope, it uses the lower register to great effect and is well worth hearing. Shiraga charts its course confidently.

It is Shiraga’s musicality that impresses throughout, and nowhere more than in the slow movement. Here the chamber music is entirely apt, and the initial civility from all sides contrasts well with the more dramatic sections. Shiraga always ensures there is no blurring in the bass, and has various opportunities to show off her characterful right-hand staccati. A shame that the finale could have been that much more unbuttoned in its explosion of D minor energy (the opening arpeggiation is hardly the upwardly-moving rocket it can be). Yet there is real verve to this Allegro assai overall. It will not disappoint.

If the smaller resources might be seen to have problems with the angst of No. 20, it would be the celebratory aspect of No. 25 that should be belittled. Yet something of the scale is maintained, and contrasts are impressive. Shiraga’s finger-work, so clear and pearly in the D minor, is confirmed here as a thing to treasure. The delight in chamber interaction from all quarters is pure joy (it is impossible to single out a single player throughout the disc, really). The cadenza is superb – a real flight of the imagination. Just very occasionally the thought that Shiraga should just let go does rear its head, but nevertheless there is so much to enjoy here this should not seriously put anyone off.

The slow movement brings with it some lovely, tasteful ornaments and a marvellously expressive piano/flute duet (around 4’42). The civilised aspect of the finale fits these forces well (the transferral of ‘horn-signal’ gestures is surprisingly effective).

There is much joy to be gleaned from this product, and Shiraga is to be congratulated on her ongoing series of ‘chamber concertos’. What with Shiraga and Ogawa, BIS are sitting on a veritable pianistic goldmine …

Colin Clarke


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