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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 13 in C major K. 415/387a (1782-83) [29:37]
Piano Concerto No. 6 in B-flat Major K. 238 (1776) [21:07]
Anne-Marie McDermott (piano)
Odense Symfoniorkester/Scott Yoo
rec. 2015, Carl Nielsen Concert Hall, Odense, Denmark
Piano Concertos – Volume 1
BRIDGE 9518 [50:50]

American pianist Anne-Marie McDermott is a highly acclaimed but still sometimes overlooked artist. Luckily for us, she has been very busy both in the concert hall and recording studio playing a wide range of repertory, from Bach and Haydn to Schumann and Chopin; from Debussy and Rachmaninov to Prokofiev and Wuorinen. Thus, it's no surprise she can adjust well to the leaner timbers and lighter scoring of Mozart here. I've heard her in repertory from later periods, in works by Chopin, Rachmaninov and Prokofiev, all of whom she interpreted very well. Her Prokofiev sonata performances, if I can judge from the few I managed to hear, were played dynamically and with great insight. I did catch some of her Bach performances too, and in that very different world she proves herself quite proficient as well.

In these Mozart concertos, Volume 1 in a series of the complete cycle, her accounts are lacking in no respect. She plays the first movement of the C major concerto with vitality and spirit, her fine interpretive instincts, crisp tone and subtly varying dynamics uniting to capture the upbeat demeanor and infectious wit of the music. There's a nice give-and-take in the exchanges between the pianist and orchestra, and if you suspect the less prominent Odense Symphony Orchestra under Scott Yoo might not measure up to the skill level of their more renowned European rivals, you can be assured their performances here are quite fine—full of kinetic drive and precisely executed. The first movement cadenza played here by Ms. McDermott is a modern one written by composer Chris Rogerson. It is well crafted and quite interesting, and it does maintain the spirit of Mozart and his style, even though you may notice a few advanced ideas. By the way, McDermott used that cadenza in a previous recording of this concerto, also on Bridge, that featured a reduced scoring, limiting the orchestral part to string quartet and double bass.

She also uses a Rogerson cadenza for the second movement. This time it shows a somewhat more serious character, which contrasts well with the mood of the lyrical music leading up to it. McDermott effectively captures the lighter, dreamy character of that lyrical music, both in her elegant legato tone and clarity of detail. The Rondo finale has plenty of cheer and playfulness in the main theme, owing to McDermott's deft phrasing, the dynamics especially subtle. The more serious manner of the alternating Adagio music is also well rendered here. In the end, one must declare this an excellent account of the concerto from both the pianist and orchestra.

If the K. 415 is Mozart at the beginning of his maturity, then the K. 238 shows him still developing his style in the concerto genre, but possibly hampered in his advancement by the fact the fortepiano was an evolving and still rather novel instrument at the time. Some have asserted, in fact, this concerto may originally have been conceived for harpsichord. Mozart was just turning twenty when he wrote this work, but divulged a mastery far beyond his years still. In this shorter sprightly concerto McDermott wisely chooses not to inject a more mature or serious manner into the music. She captures the elegance, delicacy and uplifting character of the opening movement, her articulation clear and showing a nice legato touch when appropriate. Her dynamics here and elsewhere in this concerto are well judged and imaginative, despite Mozart's almost total lack of markings for dynamics in the first two movements of his manuscript (one of the reasons the work is believed to have been originally intended for harpsichord).

For the ensuing panel a subtle legato style is most needed and here she is especially compelling with it, and her phrasing overall is always sensitive to the serene character of the main theme, which seems to augur the Elvira Madigan melody in the second movement of K. 467 (No. 21). Her tempo in this Andante movement is a bit on the expansive side but quite effective still. The finale brims with ebullience, elegance and playfulness, again McDermott having just the right touch and tempo. Throughout this concerto Scott Yoo partners her well, drawing spirited and accurate playing from this fine Odense ensemble.

The sound reproduction on this disc features very close miking, both the piano and orchestra coming across with plenty of power and clarity. You may want to cut the volume a bit, though. As for the competition here, it is quite plentiful, even if these are two of Mozart's less traversed concertos. In their complete sets Rudolf Buchbinder (Profil) and Alfred Brendel (Decca) are both very excellent, and of course there are many other fine individual performances of these concertos coupled differently. Yet, McDermott's accounts are convincing and fully competitive in their own subtle and imaginative way. What might hold someone back from purchase is the timing of 50:50, because another work might have been included. Nevertheless, both McDermott's growing base of fans and Mozart lovers will certainly find her accounts most welcome.

Robert Cummings

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