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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor K.466 (1785) [31:31]
Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major K.467 (1785) [27:00]
Haiou Zhang (piano)
Heidelberg SO/Thomas Fey
rec. 21 May 2012 (K.466) 7 July 2010 (K.467) Rudolf-Wild-Halle, Eppelheim, Germany

If you have followed Thomas Fey’s series of Haydn symphonies, you know what to expect in these Mozart piano concerti. These performances are crisp, clean, unsentimental, and often clever. There are also odd rallentandos, and pauses that sometimes overstay their welcome. The Heidelberger Sinfoniker uses modern instruments, except for brass and hard sticks for the drums. A student of Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Fey shows the influence of the movement for historically informed performance practice, but takes it in his own direction.

Haiou Zhang is a young Chinese artist, trained at Beijing’s Central Conservatory and also in Germany. His previous recording is a Liszt recital, and he approaches Mozart with an exuberance and flamboyance that may not appeal to all, but never seems out of line. His playing is both athletic and refined. Zhang provides lots of gentle legato playing, but also lots of excitement in the showier passages, reminding us that Mozart was a virtuoso pianist.

Piano Concerto no. 20, Mozart’s most brooding concerto, is given a more extrovert treatment than usual. Brass and percussion are explosive in the opening, and Fey’s exuberance is matched by Zhang. Brooding shades into fury, although the Romance has plenty of tenderness. The timings for the individual movements are conventional, although the tempi within each movement are not, given the stop and go motion of the performers.

Piano Concerto no. 21 is much less introspective than its predecessor, and begins with a marvelously swaggering march. There is a lot of muscle behind Zhang’s playing, but he also demonstrates control and restraint. The Andante is coolly beautiful, and without sentiment. How splendid that this concerto is no longer identified by the name of a mediocre Swedish movie, with its images of starving lovers eating grass. The concluding rondo is a dash, but gains in excitement, as soloist and orchestra are all up for it.

Fey and Zhang are emotionally detached, favoring brilliance over feeling. They sometimes stampede past a beloved beauty spot, but also uncover features that the listener may have missed in other versions of these works. These are wind-heavy performances. It is not that the strings are under undernourished, but that Fey treats the winds as a “harmonie” of players, an ensemble instead of a set of individual wind soloists. This use of the wind choir, sharp accents, and rhythmic alertness are what make Fey’s approach distinctive.

These two concerti were recorded in 2010 and 2012. One wonders why there has been such a delay in releasing them.

Richard Kraus



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