Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto in F major K413 (1782-83) [23:31]
Piano Concerto in F major K414 (1782) [23:31]
Piano Concerto in C major K415 (1782-83) [26:21]
Andrea Bacchetti (piano)
Orchestra di Padova e del Veneto/Carlo Goldstein
rec. 13-16 July 2011, Auditorium del Conservatorio C. Pollini, Padova, Italy
DYNAMIC CDS 713 [76:24]
This set of three piano concertos was written in one of Mozart’s brightest periods, just after his marriage to Constanze Weber, and at a time that his music was in close harmony with the tastes and therefore the appreciation of his audiences.
Other than complete sets, there aren’t that many single-disc releases which bring these fine concertos together in one place, and for this reason we can be grateful to the musicians and the Dynamic label. Gratitude from my viewpoint also comes for the quality of the recording, which has a nicely natural balance between the soloist and orchestra, whose strings are close and present enough to take on the richness of Bacchetti’s piano, which I take to be a Fazioli – in any case a very fine sounding instrument indeed.
The performances are all very attractive: full of sprightly energy and witty inflection, and expressively phrased without mannered excess. True, other performances have highlighted the moments of drama more, but this for me is a question of proportion. There is no need to dig too deeply into very dark regions if your general picture is so light and cheerful. The occasional dark clouds which pass are just that, shadows which cast a momentary phase of theatricality or emotional reflection, not elements which require particularly extra-heavy emphasis. The minor-key corners of K413 are made a good case for in this regard – pulling us up just a little, and reminding us that things need not always be easy and bathed in benign sunshine. This, the booklet notes suggest, might be Mozart’s little memorial to J.C. Bach who had died not long before in 1782, though H.C. Robbins Landon tells us that it is the second movement of K414 which is based on a J.C. Bach theme.
This is music which can be very easily consumed, or which can be picked apart mercilessly or allowed to transport us to heavenly realms. I come closer to the latter with this recording, and have very much enjoyed every moment I’ve spent in its company. I like the sonic texture set up by the orchestra, which has a decently rich-toned bass and plenty of bounce and refinement. Andrea Bacchetti is the star of the show, and I was very enthusiastic about hearing what he would do with Mozart. Well known for his Bach recordings, I very much admire the alchemy he creates with the simplest of music in recordings of lesser frequently performed composers such as Marcello and Galuppi and Cherubini. Mozart is particularly deceptive – easy sounding, but in fact one of, if not the most difficult of composers to get ‘right’. Bacchetti’s playing throughout sounds more than just ‘right’. He doesn’t go overboard with unconventional ornamentation or artificial impositions of character, keeping to the text of each concerto and bringing the notes to elegant life with the kind of touch which allows you to hear music, rather than ‘piano’. The marvellously expressive entries, such as the juicy Andante of K414 are all eagerly anticipated and satisfyingly delivered with the kind of proportionate warmth, dignity and pellucid tone which makes you know you’re going to want to come back for more, every time.
Comparisons? There are just too many to go into with any sense of direction. I still love Murray Perahia’s complete set on Sony Classical and he does have the same sequence of concertos on a single disc, though these recordings are something of a different beast, with bigger-boned orchestral sound in an acoustic to match. The same goes for the more romantic performing of Rudolf Buchbinder with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra on Hänssler Classics, and so a choice for Bacchetti on Dynamic is one for a more chamber-feel performance, with a more intimate feel. While we’re looking into chamber-music scale, there is also a fascinating recording of these concertos in their versions for string quartet and piano played by Patrick Dechorgnat and the Henschel Quartet on EMI. Very much an ‘alternative’ version, it is nonetheless surprising how much of the music is still effectively communicated in this formation. This is less true for the grander scale of K415, though the timpani in the present recording are, like the winds, less immediately present than on many recordings. I like this perspective, with the urgency of the opening Allegro supported by the drums rather than lifted up and carried off shoulder high by them due to over-enthusiastic microphone placement and levels. Once again Bacchetti is very fine here, firming up his piano sound when squaring up to the sterner competition of larger forces, while still engaging in intricate musical dialogue. His final Allegro is carefully paced rather than really exuberant, but still grand music-making, and with really affecting minor-key sections.
I do have one very minor criticism of the orchestra. This might in part be due to the close recording, but critical listening does show up an occasional ‘exposed’ feel to the upper violin lines, where unity of intonation is not always perfect. This is one of those aspects of smaller orchestral sections: where you have a pleasantly light feel with fewer musicians you also sail closer to the wind in terms of ensemble and accuracy. As I say, this is a relatively minor point, but is one which nags just a little throughout the programme. With the strings quite resonantly forward the winds as mentioned before also tend to sound a little recessed, adding colour rather than leaping out at you like soloists.
A word also about the cover photo. I admire the attempt, but in order to appear nonchalant it’s best to have something which one would at least naturally lean against. Many musicians; and Andrea Bacchetti is one of these, look best when performing or at least look more comfortable with their instrument somewhere nearby. I sense Andrea looking at the photographer with more than a hint of ‘when is this charade going to finish?’, but I can imagine the promoters probably wanted something a little different. Well, I say bring back the piano.
Though it may not be all things to all people, this is altogether a very fine slice of Italian musicianship by an ensemble and soloist who have thoroughly absorbed their Mozart, and who can perform his concertos with natural and truly enjoyable sensibility and sensitivity.
Natural feeling and genuinely enjoyable.