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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 12 in A major, K.414 (1782) [24:35]
Piano Concerto No. 13 in C major, K.415 [25:55]
(Chamber versions for string quintet arranged by Ignaz Lachner)
Haiou Zhang (piano)
NDR Philharmonic String Players
rec. 2018, Kleiner Sendesaal, NDR Landesfunkhaus Niedersachsen, Germany

Three years after his Concerto No. 10 for two pianos, K. 365, Mozart returned to the genre. In 1782 wrote a group of three: No. 11, K.413; No. 12, K.414 and No. 13, K. 415. They were written in his early period of living in Vienna, and he cleverly tailored them to compliment Viennese taste. As much as I love these concertos in their standard form, it is a refreshing change to hear Nos. 12and 13 in the chamber versions prepared by German composer Ignaz Lachner (1807-1895). They seem especially suitable for the string quintet as played here. Lachner, it seems, made arrangements of twelve of Mozart’s Piano Concertos for piano and string quintet, serving to make these glorious works with reduced orchestration more accessible to pianists and chamber groups.

The album is the Chinese pianist Haiou Zhang’s fourth for Hänssler Classic. He recorded a collection of Liszt piano works, Mozart’s piano concertos Nos. 20 and 21 with Heidelberger Sinfoniker under Thomas Fey (review), and a broad solo collection titled ‘Fingerprints’. I was interested to learn that initially he was not too enamoured of Mozart but has grown to love his music. With a sense of total involvement throughout, Zhang’s attentive performances feel fresh, invariably stylish and focused, and his technique seems flawless. Forthright and upbeat in character in the opening movement Allegro, the playing gushes with joie de vivre. I find Zhang graceful and sensitive in the introspective slow movements, so emotionally affecting, and suitably brisk and vivacious in the Finales. I notice that the same year these two concertos were written Mozart bought an Anton Walter fortepiano, with two octaves fewer than a modern instrument. He used it for his concerts around Vienna, and played for the rest of his life. Zhang is playing a modern instrument, a Steinway Model D Concert Grand, which has a pleasing, full sound and serves Mozart’s music especially well. The five string players from the NDR Philharmonic, in what is essentially a string quartet with the bass doubling the cello part, provide Zhang with sensitive support that feels consistent and dedicated.

There are no real problems with the sound quality. The close recording is satisfactorily clear and well balanced. In the booklet there is a generally helpful and well written (if not completely error-free) essay about this pair of piano concertos. Curiously, though, there is nothing explained about these chamber arrangements by Ignaz Lachner, which I have researched myself. The playing time of only fifty-minutes is very meagre by current standards, so it is a shame a third concerto was not included.

Michael Cookson


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