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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, K467 ‘Elvira Madigan’ (1785) [29.25]
Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, KV 488 (1786) [26.52]
Simone Dinnerstein (piano)
Havana Lyceum Orchestra/José Antonio Méndez Padrón
rec. 2016, Oratorio San Felipe Neri, Havana, Cuba
SONY CLASSICAL 88985382442 [56.25]

When the Havana Lyceum Orchestra arrived in the U.S. in June 2017 for its East Coast Tour from Boston to Miami with pianist Simone Dinnerstein it marked the first time an ensemble of these proportions had travelled to the U.S. since the revolution in Cuba. This release, named ‘Mozart in Havana’, was recorded in Cuba around a year before the partnership’s East Coast tour with the same title and programme of the same two renowned Mozart Piano Concertos No’s No. 21 and 23.

New York born Dinnerstein’s association with Cuba came about as a result of her piano teacher Solomon Mikowsky a Cuban who invited her in 2003 to play in the Encuentro de Jóvenes Pianistas festival in Havana. A relatively young ensemble, the Havana Lyceum Orchestra was founded as recently as 2009 in collaboration with Lyceum Mozartiano de La Habana, a body co-founded by the Salzburg Mozarteum Foundation, Austria. Conductor José Antonio Méndez Padrón is the founding music director of the orchestra which is made up of Havana academy/conservatory musicians with varying experience ranging from students and recent graduates to professors.

Completed in 1785 the Piano Concerto No. 21 is sometimes known as ‘Elvira Madigan’ after its Andante was featured in the 1967 Swedish film of the same name, directed by Bo Widerberg. The lengthy opening movement (Allegro maestoso) contains majestic and highly melodic writing with Simone Dinnerstein displaying buoyant playing of lightness of touch, both vivacious and fresh. Probably the most enduringly celebrated slow movement that Mozart wrote, the exceedingly memorable and tender melody of the Andante is played with beautiful and tender expression. In the Rondo Finale, Dinnerstein gives a sparkling and committed performance of the dashing piano part. Galloping along swiftly, Dinnerstein provides an abundance of disarming ebullience. The orchestral playing from the Havana players sounds characteristically vivid and spontaneous.

The period around 1786, when Mozart composed his Piano Concerto No. 23 was a highly fruitful period in Mozart’s life, coming around the same time as the premičre of The Marriage of Figaro. Considered one of Mozart’s most lyrical piano concertos, Dinnerstein is here in striking form playing the opening Allegro with an uplifting vitality that contains a warm glow. With rapt concentration in the meditative Adagio the soloist finds an elusive, near spiritual quality that draws the listener in. I couldn’t imagine more joy and optimism than Dinnerstein provides in the closing movement (Allegro assai), with its buoyant character which simply fizzes along. There is first class support from the Lyceum Orchestra under conductor Padrón who clearly loves this music, displaying a special affinity for the score.

Recorded during late night sessions at Oratorio San Felipe Neri, Havana, the engineering team has provided generally satisfying sound, slightly bright and clear, well balanced and only very occasionally a touch over bright. The accompanying booklet sadly contains no essay about the two Mozart piano concertos. There is however information that the C major Concerto uses cadenzas by Ferruccio Busoni and Philip Lasser. At just over fifty-six minutes the playing time is short by current standards.

Played by soloist Simone Dinnerstein and the Havana orchestra this is one of the most uplifting and thoroughly enjoyable releases I have heard this year. Undoubtedly these are accounts I will play often even if they don’t displace my primary recommendations. In Piano Concerto No. 21 my first choice is the stunning 2012 live account from soloist Mitsuko Uchida directing the Cleveland Orchestra recorded at Severance Hall, Cleveland, Ohio, USA on Decca. My strongest advocacy in Piano Concerto No. 23 goes to Daniel Barenboim, with Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks under Rafael Kubelik, recorded live at Herkulessaal, Munich in 1970 on BR Klassik. Also admirable is the striking 2008 live account by soloist Mitsuko Uchida directing the Cleveland Orchestra on Decca.

Sheer delight from start to finish this Simone Dinnerstein/Havana partnership is a richly rewarding one and deserves to be heard in this much loved Mozart repertoire.

Michael Cookson



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