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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 17 in G major, K453 (1784) [29:07]
Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, K491 (1786) [30:10]
English Chamber Orchestra/Benjamin Hochman (piano)
rec. 2019, St. John Smith Square, London
AVIE AV2404 [59:18]

Benjamin Hochman is a new name to me and I would direct you to his website which has a biography, details of recordings and assures us that he studied with the Claude Franck and Richard Goode. Here he is playing two Mozart piano concertos, one fairly well known and the other the famous and disturbing K491, one of my favourites. Following the footsteps of Daniel Barenboim (Warner), and Murray Perahia (Sony), he both plays and directs the English Chamber Orchestra. Briefly, he achieves great success with both pieces, well up to the standards of the two performers who preceded him. This is a very stimulating and life-affirming record.

Piano Concerto No.17 in G major is one of six piano concertos he wrote in 1784 and his sense of joy seems to spill over in this concerto. The Allegro has real vigour but none of the angst that seems to occur in Nos 20 and 24, for example. Hochman plays with real joie de vivre and the ECO are all at one with him. The Andante has a slight wistful air. I see that the fine notes by Hochman mention this aspect too, and is beautifully captured by the wind in particular. I find the development of the theme sublime. A variation is used as Mozart did so often in these works. Hochman has deep empathy here and demands a listener’s full attention. It may be beautiful music but it’s not pretty and as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, there’s no hint of the “Dresden China” approach. The depth of the piano is very well captured by the engineers. The Allegretto-Presto is a set of five variations. Apparently Mozart acquired a starling who could whistle the first variation. I’m indebted to the performer’s notes for this fascinating piece of information. The movement has an effervescence which is certainly not present in the more world-weary Piano Concerto No.24. The soloist and orchestra convey this triumphantly.

Piano Concerto No.24 is a much more serious piece. The minor key indicates a sense of foreboding which arches over the tumultuous opening. This is most impressive and the somewhat hesitant piano entry shows the listener that the sense of well-being of the earlier work has evaporated. It certainly has elements of “Sturm und Drang” (storm and stress) deployed by Haydn during his middle symphonies. The two composers influenced each other.

Hochman is excellent in No. 24 but I’m sure lovers of this piece will also want to return to such as Barenboim, Curzon (Decca) and Uchida (Philips). I should also add that Brendel is much admired in this work. The wit of Mozart’s writing here, even if it is devoid of humour, is brought out magnificently. The Larghetto is simultaneously both marvellous and heart-breaking. The slow movement, along with that of Piano Concerto No.21, happens to be my favourite slow movement among Mozart’s piano concertos; not an easy choice. The playing here is near perfect and I hope no one will ask me to make comparisons. The Allegretto is also a set of variations and is droll, whilst never escaping that feeling of pervasive dread. The wind ensemble is excellent throughout and is reminiscent of works such as the Gran Partita for thirteen wind instruments. The concerto ends, if not in triumph, with a sense of accomplishment.

It seems to me quite remarkable to play this music but also successfully to conduct an orchestra is quite extraordinary; great artists can achieve this. Hochman seems to be in tune with Mozart’s spirit here, the composer also played and directed.

This is a very enjoyable and accomplished recording of two wonderful pieces and I look forward to much more from this source.
David R Dunsmore

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