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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concertos – Volume 2
Concerto No. 14, KV 449 (1784) in E flat major for Piano and Orchestra [21:07]
Divertimento, KV 136 (1772) in D major for Strings [12:23]
Divertimento, KV 138 (1772) in F major for Strings [9:52]
Concerto No. 19, KV 459 (1784) in F major for Piano and Orchestra [25:50]
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano), Manchester Camerata / Gábor Takács-Nagy
rec. 2017, Royal Northern College of Music Concert Hall, Manchester
CHANDOS CHAN10958 [69:34]

Marc Rochester reviewed the first CD in this series by French pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, with the Manchester Camerata under Gábor Takács-Nagy for MusicWeb International last November. He began by making the very valid point that anyone recording such familiar repertoire has to bring something different to the table, if that recording is going to stand out from the crowd. On that occasion there was something glaringly obvious. Bavouzet used his own cadenzas in the frequently-performed G major Piano Concerto, K453, and despite your take on what today’s cadenza should be like, when transplanted into a work written over two hundred years earlier, Bavouzet’s two examples certainly marked the overall performance as something special, not that the high quality of both orchestral and solo playing on the CD was found wanting in any respect. Mozart has provided his own cadenzas for the two concertos recorded here in Vol. 2, so that little mark-earner is no longer available. The Times has described the Manchester Camerata as “Probably Britain’s most adventurous orchestra ...”, so perhaps that is as good a place as any to start looking for that special je ne sais quoi.

Led by Adi Brett, the ensemble is ideally sized for this repertoire, especially in the string department. Because clearly only players of the highest calibre are engaged, the character here is much more akin to the intimacy of a chamber group ensemble than a true symphonic ensemble, the clue, of course, partly being in the name. But that is not to say that there is not power-a-plenty when called for. The very opening of the E flat Concerto, in fact, says it all in a nutshell: absolute precision in the ornaments, great clarity of line where any instrument that has something important to say at any one point stands out, but never dominates the texture, and the impressive attack as the music goes into the relative minor (C minor, and one of the composer’s favourite keys for drama) around twenty-five seconds into the exposition. These all mark out this performance as something special, even before the soloist has made his own telling first contribution. It is clear that both sheer dynamism and enthusiasm in the orchestral playing emanates from the man at the front, Budapest-born Gábor Takács-Nagy, who also works just as hard to nurture the more lyrical side of the music. That is something he is more able to do by forsaking the baton, and itself something perfectly feasible for this size of ensemble. But when Bavouzet makes his first appearance, he takes over exactly where the Camerata have left off, attesting to a great feeling of empathy between soloist and conductor. All too often, the soloist’s body language can suggest a degree of displeasure at the way the orchestra deals with the opening themes that the soloist will then make use of in the ensuing solo exposition. There is possibly a good reason why there seems such unity of spirit here. The same programme was performed live at the same venue just four days before the recordings were made, in a concert with the somewhat enigmatic title of Mozart Madness with Jean-Efflam Bavouzet. Thankfully Chandos did not record it live then—complete with the usual extraneous sounds of forgotten mobile phones, or the seasonal coughing paroxysms—but wisely decided to commit it to posterity a few days after the performance.

There are many great moments along the way, especially in the Finale, with its quasi-contrapuntal effects which both parties despatch with great panache, particularly in the C minor episode, and, of course, the final section in compound time (6/8). Both concertos on this second CD come from Mozart’s highly-productive year of 1784. Whereas the E flat concerto was slightly unusual in that its opening movement was in three beats to the bar (3/4), the other concerto here, KV 459 in F major, follows normal conventions, with its opening Allegro in common time (or 4/4). The playing here, both by soloist and orchestra, is equally as impressive as in the previous work. Certainly Bavouzet and Takács-Nagy have come to a clear understanding with regards the middle movement, marked Allegretto, the usual text-book definition of which is “At a fairly brisk speed”. This is the tempo indication for the middle movement, which would usually stand as the slow movement. But this movement, in compound time (6/8), is just not a slow movement as such. Bavouzet and orchestra rightly agree on this, adopting a tempo that exactly accords with the composer’s Allegretto direction. Brendel, for example, on Decca 4422692 comes in at 8:19, Haskil on DG E4497222 at 8:08, and Perahia on Sony 82876872302 at exactly 8:00. Bavouzet’s is a mere 6:07. Only Barenboim on Elatus 2564608102 gets reasonably close, at 6:38. But it is Bavouzet’s tempo that emerges the most convincing among this small sample.

Michael O’Loghlin’s sleeve notes are erudite as well as interesting, and there is also plenty of useful information about the performers. At the start of this review I was trying to find something specific—like Bavouzet’s cadenzas on the previous CD—to mark this follow-up with something at least equally distinctive. The clue to the answer in fact can be found in the accompanying booklet, under a separate section called Performer’s Note. Here Bavouzet writes at length about various details in the score, and the discussions which would then follow between soloist and conductor, where, on occasions, these might involve just a single note, as it might appear in different editions. But such absolute attention to the minutiae of the score certainly does not bring about any hint of academic sterility in the performance. Far from it. It does confirm that both parties have given Mozart’s music a great deal of consideration, and are fully as one when interpreting what he wrote, while still allowing for unique shared nuances and idiosyncratic little touches along the way.

The listener will no doubt notice the Yamaha logo on the jewel case, and there is reference to the instrument actually used both in the live performance, and in the recording. It is a Yamaha Model CFX nine-foot concert grand piano, courtesy of Yamaha Piano Technician Shinya Maeda. While Bavouzet is not a listed Yamaha Artist, I was interested to hear why this instrument was used on the occasion. The Venues and Events Coordinator at the RNCM kindly confirmed that while three Steinway Model D concert grand pianos are available in the concert hall, both for performances and recordings, Bavouzet favoured the Japanese instrument, which was then supplied and installed by Yamaha whenever needed.

In discussing his previous Mozart CD, Bavouzet explains his choice of the Yamaha CFX instrument: “When considering a piano for this project I immediately thought about a Yamaha. The wonderful comfort of the keyboard action, the refined sound, and the natural balance between bass and treble were qualities that made my choice obvious and perfect for the Mozart Concertos.” Although a life-long Steinway aficionado, I have to agree with his comments, in as much as the piano-sound on this new CD is concerned, enhanced, of course, by the outstanding fidelity of the recording as a whole, and the warm acoustic of the venue.

With the added generosity of two well-known and much loved Divertimenti—in D major, KV 136, and F major, KV 138, respectively—where the Manchester Camerata really comes into its own with some stunning playing, there can be little doubt that this new CD is the perfect successor, and that a Vol. 3 will not lag very far behind.
Philip R Buttall



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