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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concertos - Volume 2
Piano Concerto No. 16 in D major K. 451, (1784) [23:33]
Piano Concerto No. 15 in B-flat Major K. 450, (1784) [24:22]
Piano Concerto No. 5 in D Major K. 175, (1773) [21:53]
Anne-Marie McDermott (piano)
Odense Symfoniorkester/Kenneth Montgomery, Gilbert Varga, Andreas Delfs
rec. 2017/18, Carl Nielsen Concert Hall, Odense, Denmark
BRIDGE 9523 [69:54]

I recently reviewed Volume 1 in this series of Mozart piano concertos here (review) and was quite impressed by it. Now in Volume 2 pianist Anne-Marie McDermott again turns in highly distinguished performances, wherein she is accompanied once more by the quite talented but often overlooked Odense Symphony Orchestra. She chooses two middle-period piano concertos coupled with the composer's earliest original effort in the series, K. 175 (No. 5), written when Mozart was seventeen years old.

This time around, as you may have noticed in the heading, McDermott has a different conductor in each of the three concertos, whereas in Volume 1, containing K. 415 and K. 238, Scott Yoo led the orchestra in both works. Moving from one performance to the other in this latest volume, naturally you notice some difference in conducting styles, but not as much as you would think. That might indicate that Ms. McDermott has a pretty firm grasp on the expressive path she wants to take in each work and communicates that approach precisely to the conductor. Of course, there will always will be some leeway given over to the podium, and in this respect I would say Montgomery strikes me as slightly favoring vigor over elegance in the Allegro movements whereas Varga is the opposite, though with no lack of energy. Delfs falls in between, maintaining a good balance, and all three of these veteran conductors draw out fine and detail-rich performances from this Odense ensemble.

So, on the conducting and orchestral side, things go well. But let's get to the main player here, Ms. McDermott. She displays much the same assets this time: her phrasing in general is both intelligent and imaginative, and features a subtly nuanced legato touch, many finely wrought gradations of dynamics, judicious tempos which tend to fall into the moderate range, and a strong grasp on Mozart's expressive idiom. On this new disc, except in K. 175, I noticed perhaps a bit more weight in her tone from time to time: to cite just two examples, hear the potent opening chords in the first movement of K. 451 or the powerful bass notes in the finale of K. 450, the latter instance serving well both as underpinning and contrast to the plentiful upper register writing. McDermott is an artist who doesn't yield to momentary whim, and so these little added touches always have effective purpose.

Overall, the first movement of K. 451, which comes first on the disc, brims with youthful energy and busyness, but because of the added weight and vigor, it also divulges a resolute and determined quality, quite fitting to the character of the music. The lyrical Andante that follows is lovely in her hands, enhanced greatly by her fine legato tone. The finale comes across with all the energy, grace and subtlety the music will ever need.

I must confess I find K. 450 to be the better concerto - no surprise then that it's the more heavily recorded of the two. McDermott adjusts perfectly to the concerto's more elegant and graceful demeanor. Excellent as her performance of K. 451 is, this may even be better. Every note under her fingers seems to reach your ear with the right level of dynamics and accenting, and her measured use of rubato is always well judged. The first movement has more grandeur and beauty than I had previously thought. The ensuing Andante flows with an exquisite serenity while the finale brims with vigor and good-natured mischief. Yet, owing to the aforementioned added weight in McDermott's tone, it also exhibits a measure of self-confidence. A great performance!

Mozart thought highly of the D major concerto (K. 175) and performed it many times on concert tours. As suggested above, it was his first original piano concerto, the four preceding it being arrangements of other composer's keyboard sonatas. This work is actually quite good, though very light and chipper, and lacking in any emotional depth. McDermott plays the concerto for what it is, not trying to reach beyond the youthful energy and high spirits of the outer movements or to impart a more thoughtful or pensive manner to the dreamy and playful character of the lyrical central panel. For most of the concerto, she uses a light touch and conveys a sense of elegance, a most appropriate fit for the music. Her trills exude a gracefulness, while her busy passage work exhibits fine dynamics and facile technical skills. This performance is about as subtle and effective an effort as you're likely to encounter in this work.

The sound reproduction is once again well balanced and highly detailed, but you may want to cut the volume a bit because it is recorded at a high level. I very much do not find this to be a fault though, in any way. As mentioned in my review of Volume 1, there is much competition in these works from the likes of Buchbinder in his complete set on Profil, Brendel on Decca, and many others in their complete sets or individual performances. I recently re-listened to Buchbinder in these three concertos and noticed right off the sound reproduction was not nearly as detailed. For that reason, I would choose McDermott here because her renditions are at least as fine otherwise. Moreover, she is competitive in her performances here with the best of the other competition I've heard. If she maintains this high level of playing throughout the series, she might well be my first choice in this repertory. This is simply excellent Mozart artistry and thus highly recommended.

Robert Cummings




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