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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No.12 in A major, K.414 (1782) [24:12]
Piano Concerto No.23 in A major, K.488 (1786) [25:23]
Ignaz HOLZBAUER (1711-1783)
Symphony in E flat major, Op.4 No.3 [13:30]
Matea Leko (piano)
Kurpfalz Chamber Orchestra/Johannes Schlaefli
rec. March 2014, Johanniskirche, Mannheim
ARS PRODUKTION SACD ARS38167 [63:01]

The young Croatian pianist Matea Leko studied initially in Zagreb with Ivanka Kordic, later Dalibor Cikojevic, and finally in a series of master-classes thanks to a scholarship from her native city. She continued her studies in 2008 in Vienna, and Bergamo, in Italy, and has since performed widely across Europe. For her Ars Produktion disc she has turned to two concertos by Mozart. Given that they are bisected by a symphony by Holzbauer, the programme wears a strongly Austro-German profile, reflective of her connections in Vienna, certainly, but also forming a digestible recital that allows the Kurpfalz Chamber Orchestra its own moment in the sun in the symphony.

The orchestra shapes up as 4-4-3-2-1 so provides supple but inevitably small-scale support in the concertos. Leko’s piano is quite forwardly balanced but such is the clarity of the orchestra’s lines that it is not unduly spot-lit, la concerto recordings of the 1950s. The A major Concerto, K.414 is deftly played, at good tempi. The first movement cadenza is especially well negotiated and the exchanges between orchestra and piano attractively calibrated, with the Rondo finale not pushed too hard. This is a very overcrowded field, of course, and that is especially the case when one turns to the A major, K.488. Leko plays attention to balance between the hands, sometimes even vesting the bass with a resilient touch, of which the corollary is a slight air of determined intensity. She employs some attractively expressive rubati in the first-movement cadenza, and plays with sufficient rhythmic resilience and buoyancy. Her touch can be a little hard in the slow movement and her approach to the concerto is on the cool, understated side. Perhaps, too, the finale could be a little more animated. Nevertheless she is a natural-sounding player, with a fine technique, and sounds at home in the Mozartian repertoire.

Ignaz Holzbauer was a contemporary of Johann Stamitz and Haydn, and thus much older than Mozart. Music director at Mannheim, he was responsible for cultivating that orchestra of brilliant virtuosi in the 1770s that so impressed Mozart. A prolific symphonist – there are over 200 – as well as string quartets and concertos, to say nothing of vocal music, one of his best examples in this field is the Symphony in E flat major, Op.4 No.3 known as Sinfonia dieci which is graced by a then well-known finale called La tempesta del mare. This was part of a nature-pictorial-storm vogue that embraced composers ranging from Vivaldi, Salieri, and Beethoven to a host of lesser names. This vigorous and tuneful work has plenty of fluid melodies and a sure quotient of drama and contrast. Its gracious scenic element is offset by a hunting-horn motif or two and, of course, that vigorous finale.

There is a spacious SACD sound to enjoy in this disc and it will be interesting to see in which reportorial direction Leko will move next.

Jonathan Woolf