Schubert sonatas

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Friends and Rivals: Mozart and Clementi
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto in E flat, K271, 'Jeunehomme'a (1777) [33'34].
Muzio CLEMENTI (1752-1832)
Piano Concerto in Cb (1796) [22'50]
Felicja Blumental (piano);
aMozarteum Orchestra of Salzburg/Leopold Hager;
bPrague Symphony Orchestra/Alberto Zedda.
rec. Salzburg, a1976 and b1980. ADD
BRANA RECORDS BR0008 [56'24]
Polish pianist Felicja Blumental (1908-1991) was an intensely musical pianist, as these recordings clearly show. The idea behind this coupling was inspired by the musical contest between Mozart and Clementi in Vienna in 1781 - it was a tie, declared Emperor Josef II - an event which sparked a long-lasting rivalry between the two composers.

The 'Jeunehomme' is easily the best-known of Mozart's earlier concerti. The 1976 recording may take some getting used to. The orchestra lacks depth, yet the piano is remarkably echoey. Hager's exposition is somewhat unsubtle - bright and breezy might be another, more charitable, reading - and there is a general lack of repose. Blumental, however, is a most approachable advocate, her first-movement cadenza a particular delight. The Andantino - more of an Adagio if one is honest, but a glance at the recording date tells us why - is very good, very intense. Blumental plays with a real communion with the music's spirit, even if her accents can seem too pushed at times. The orchestra seems to have finally reached echt-Mozartian waters for the finale. A huge amount of energy runs through this. There seems, though, to be some sort of acoustic shift at 8'50 in this movement, most disconcerting, especially so near the end.

Whereas the Mozart might be in a crowded field - Uchida on Philips remains my personal 'modern' preference - the Clementi sits almost alone. Pietro Spada recorded his own edition of this work for ASV with the Philharmonia: CDDCA802. Blumental makes the best possible case for a work that is clearly on a lower inspirational stratum than the 'Jeunehomme'. Compositionally, the orchestral exposition is rather clumsy, although in all honesty it is jolly enough and the Prague orchestra plays tidily. This is an appealing work, of that there is no doubt, but perhaps putting it next to K271 wasn't such a bright idea after all. The cadenza is the best part of the first movement – it becomes positively Beethovenian, and it  is excellently played here.

The highlight is the slow movement which is marked, 'Adagio e cantabile, con grande espressione'. The long, silky violin line that opens is surely operatic in nature - if not in origin? - and, interestingly, parts tend towards the Chopinesque. If the finale is something of a let-down, its elements of C major pomp are appealing.

Worth investigating. The low playing time is somewhat mitigated by the low retail price.
Colin Clarke



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