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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 9 in E flat major, K271 Jeunehomme (1777) [33:02]
Piano Concerto No. 25 in C major, K503 (1786) [32:07]
Rondo in A major for piano and orchestra, K386 (1782-83) [9.06]
Pascal Rogé (piano)
Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra/Raymond Leppard
rec. Hilbert Circle Theater, Indianapolis, USA. No recording dates provided.
ONYX 4013 [74.34]


French pianist Pascal Rogé together with violinist Viktoria Mullova; soprano Barbara Bonney and the Borodin String Quartet were the founding members of the bold independent designer label Onyx. It was launched in 2005. As the recipient of most of the Onyx review copies I have been generally impressed with their programme content and the consistently high quality of performance and sound quality.

In this appealing release of two of the Mozart concertos and a rondo Rogé and colleagues continue this elevated standard of performance although this time I have certain reservations over the sound quality.

Pascal Rogé does seem to have become somewhat typecast both in the recording studio and the concert/recital hall as a specialist in programmes of works by French maverick composer Erik Satie and by Ravel, Debussy, Poulenc and Fauré. Few that have heard the recording will forget Rogé’s magnificent interpretation of Satie’s Trois Gymnopédies and the six Gnossiennes, made in London in 1983, on Decca 410 220-2.

On this release, to tie in with Mozart’s 250th birthday celebrations, Rogé takes a welcome break from the French comfort zone with his first recording of Mozart scores. That said, I understand from the Onyx publicity information, that Rogé frequently performs these piano concertos in concert.

The opening work is the Piano Concerto No. 9, K271 composed in Salzburg in 1777. For many years the score has been referred to by the subtitle Jeunehomme. Legend has it that this arises from an alleged dedication to an unknown French virtuosa pianist named Mademoiselle Jeunehomme. In 2003 it was reported in the ‘New York Times on the Web’ by Lawrence van Gelder that the Viennese musicologist Dr. Michael Lorenz, from research made in the City Archive of Vienna, believes that the mystery woman behind the commission was in fact Victoire Jenamy, a piano playing daughter of Jean George Noverre, a famous dancer who was one of Mozart's friends.

Andrew McGregor, presenter of the BBC Radio 3 programme ‘CD Review’ has expressed the view that the score, "is the one that’s usually labelled the first great Mozart Piano Concerto, a real breakthrough for the twenty-one-year-old in terms of style and content, and with a startlingly dark and beautiful slow movement."

In the opening allegro I was impressed with Rogé’s light and firm playing and his judicious choice of tempos. The andantino is weighted to perfection but lacks the poetry of Barenboim on Warner Classics; Perahia on Sony and Brendel on Philips. There is first class playing that is a match for anyone in the final movement rondo - dashing and vivacious with marvellous energy.

There are many fine accounts of this concerto that would grace any collector’s library. However, my favourite is the one played by Daniel Barenboim directing the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra from Berlin in 1991. It is on Barenboim’s 9 disc set of Mozart’s ‘The Piano Concertos’ on Warner Classics 2564 61919-2. I also remain impressed with Murray Perahia’s 1987 version playing and directing the English Chamber Orchestra on his 12 disc Mozart set of ‘The Complete Piano Concertos’ on Sony 82876872302. Also exceptional is the version released in 2002 from Alfred Brendel with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under Charles Mackerras on Philips 00289 470 2872.

The Piano Concerto No. 25, K503 was completed in Vienna in 1786 a short time before the completion of his Symphony No. 38, ‘Prague’, K504. Writing six such piano concertos in a two year period K503 heralds the conclusion of an intense period of writing. In fact Mozart was to write only two more piano concertos - K537 and K595 - before his death in 1791.

In the opening movement allegro of K503 Rogé communicates a reverential quality to this high quality interpretation. He provides an underlying mood of disquieting tension in the andante and in the closing movement allegretto displays an adventurous jagged edge to his expressive playing.

Collectors are spoilt for choice with this concerto and I could mention at least a dozen versions that I believe are especially worth obtaining. My favourite account that I have had for some years on a vinyl record from the 1960s is played by Julius Katchen and the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra under Karl Münchinger on Contour Red Seal CC 7539. It has been reissued on compact disc on Vol. 2 of the series ‘The Art of Julius Katchen’ on Decca 460 825-2. I also remain a devotee of the 1988 Berlin account played by Daniel Barenboim directing the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra from the 9 disc Warner Classics set mentioned above. Alfred Brendel’s 2002 release with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under Charles Mackerras on Philips 00289 470 2872 is also exceptionally well performed. Brendel’s coupling is Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 9, K271 and if one is looking for both K271 and K503 on one disc this would be my first choice.

The final score on this release is the Rondo in A major K386 that Mozart composed in Vienna during 1782-83 around the time of his marriage to Constanze. Two rondos A major and D major were completed at this time. Evidently part of the A major Rondo was lost for many years until a page turned up in 1980, however, there is still some doubt as to the authenticity of the music in its entirety.

In this Rondo Rogé and the Indianapolis Symphony under Leppard perform the score with considerable affection and their interpretation is one that I will certainly return to. My first choice in the A major Rondo is that from Murray Perahia playing and directing the English Chamber Orchestra on the above 12 disc Sony Mozart set.

I thoroughly enjoyed Rogé’s performances of these attractive scores and the Indianapolis Symphony under Raymond Leppard are to be congratulated for their dedicated support. My difficultly is that in these frequently recorded works, especially with the amount of recent issues in Mozart’s 250th anniversary year, the competition is just too fierce to recommend this disc over a number of other superb performances in the current catalogues. Clearly any recommended version must be excellent on several counts. I found the Onyx sound quality somewhat problematic. It was sharply bright in the forte passages with a slight metallic edge, putting my teeth on edge on too many occasions for my taste. The soloist is closely caught and at times the orchestral detail seemed to vary depending on the work played. The booklet notes are adequate but I would have preferred more comprehensive information.

Michael Cookson

Full Onyx Catalogue


 



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