It's an interesting idea to pair these piano concertos, Mozart's only two in the ‘bright' key of A major. They are both mature works - although that word is accompanied by something of a ‘twinkle' when it comes to Mozart. He was in his mid-twenties when he composed K414, just thirty when he came to K488. Both of them hail from his Vienna years which was when the full flowering of his genius took place.
This CD, made in Odense, Denmark, features the young Armenian-Danish pianist Marianna Shirinyan. She has been a ‘Steinway Artist' since 2013, and embarked in the same year on a period as Artist-in-Residence with the Odense Symphony Orchestra, her partners for this recording, together with the American conductor Scott Yoo.
So a Steinway and a symphony orchestra; these then are unashamed ‘full-on' performances with modern resources. That however is not to say they are insensitive or lacking in style, and I enjoyed the disc enormously. Shirinyan has a true feeling for Mozart's music, and her playing is full of elegantly turned phrases and lyrical cantabile
. She doesn't apologise for her Steinway, and produces a tone which, though always beautiful, does reveal the resonant depths of tone available.
The orchestra is
a large one, using what sounds like a pretty full complement of strings. Once or twice this is a problem, in particular at the start of K488, where not only is the tone in the violins low register a little too strong, but the separate quavers are played with too dry a staccato for my taste.
As regards the earlier work, K414, it is very important to remember that Mozart at this stage (1782) in Vienna saw his concertos as somewhat expanded chamber works. He was quite prepared to have them performed with string quartet accompaniment only - the wind parts were effectively ad lib.
By K488 (1786) the concertos had grown in scale, and had become unquestionably orchestral works, with wonderful and integral wind parts. To that extent, the later work definitely sounds more comfortable with the (relatively) large forces.
That said, these performances have been lovingly prepared. There is an obvious empathy between soloist, conductor and orchestra, and there is also some outstandingly lovely orchestral playing. The advantage of the large body of strings can be heard, for example, at around 4:25 in the first movement of K488 (track 4). There the new melody is given a rich, hushed quality that you can only really achieve with a largish body of strings. There is also some very fine wind playing in the great F# minor slow movement of K488.
In the end, the acid test is how involved one becomes with the performances. This CD, despite any small issues, passes that test with flying colours. I wanted to hear it again and again. At the end of each of the irresistible concluding rondos, I felt like cheering, such was the infectious joy of the performances.
If you can ‘take' the use of modern forces in these works, there are riches to enjoy in these intelligent, characterful versions of two of Mozart's most lovable masterpieces.
Masterwork Index: Piano concerto 12
~~ Piano concerto 23