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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
Piano Concerto no.5 in D major, KV175 (1773) [20.55]
Piano Concerto no.6 in B flat major, KV238 (1776) [19.26]
Piano Concerto no.8 in C major. KV246 “Lützow” (1776) [21.56]
Piano Concerto no.9 in E flat major, KV271 (1776) “Jenamy” [30.57]
“La finta giardiniera” KV196 (1775) [4.53]
“Il sogno di Scipione” KV126 (141a) (1772) [7’52]
“Lucia Silla” KC135 (1772) [7.44]
“Il re pastore” KV208 (1775) [3.15]
“Zaide” KV344 (1779-80) [8.12]
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano)
Manchester Camerata/Gábor Takács-Nagy
rec. 2019, The Stoller Hall, Hunts Bank, Manchester, UK
CHANDOS CHAN20137(2) [60.49 + 64.22]

It was back in 2016 that I first saw Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, the Manchester Camerata and Gábor Takács-Nagy perform Mozart’s piano concertos on the stage of the Crewe Lyceum Theatre, just before the first of their discs in this series came out (Chandos CHAN10929). Talk about shock and awe; awe because it was my dream interpretation of the Mozart piano concertos (and here was me thinking I had totally gone over to original instrument performances), shock at the sheer vivacity and bounciness of it. I have still not recovered from that incredible, totally off-the-wall cadenza in K453 which, I wrote at the time, sounded like numbers from an unwritten musical. (That’s also on the disc, but you can re-programme to avoid it.)

Well, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet still has his own take on Mozart. The cadenza in the final movement of K175, no. 5, on this latest double album, is certainly not by Mozart (he didn’t write one) but it is dramatic, exciting and completely different from anyone else’s. There is still nothing at all wrong with Murray Perahia’s forty year old version with the English Chamber Orchestra (still available as a download (SONY MK 37267). But Perahia is fractionally slower throughout, and his cadenza is a conventional reminder of melodies in the concerto. Bavouzet gives the impression of going for broke, and his cadenza is a 21st century response to Mozart’s musical language. I think the composer would have approved.

K175, no. 5, is actually Mozart’s first piano concerto (earlier ones are arrangements of works by other composers), and K238, no.6, is his second. Here, my comparison was with Malcolm Bilson’s original instrument version with John Eliot Gardiner and the English Baroque Soloists (his complete boxed set of the Mozart piano concertos is downloadable as DG Archiv E4631112.) I love the sound of those authentic woodwinds, and the performance is vigorous and attractive. But Bavouzet’s response to that very Mozartian but strangely modern, dramatic episode in the middle of the final movement is in a different league from Bilson’s; the work just takes off.

The final two concertos on this double album both have names. No.8, K246, is dedicated to the Countess of Lützow, the wife of the commander of the fortress which stands above Salzburg and niece of the man who was to become Mozart’s běte noire, Archbishop Colloredo. Commentators claim she was obviously no virtuoso, because the piece is not difficult (I’ve seen the score - it is.). Mozart was quite scathing about an attempt by Abbé Vogler to play it, and he thought well enough of it to take it on tour with him.

No. 9, K271, is named for Madame Louise Victoire Jenamy, the married daughter of Mozart’s friend the French ballet dancer Jean-George Noverre. (Thanks are due to Michael Lorenz, who made this discovery as recently as 2004; the concerto was always known as the jeunehomme, thanks to a 1912 biography.) This one declares its originality straight away, with the pianist coming straight in after an opening orchestral flourish. The second movement is dark and powerful, and Bavouzet plainly relishes this atmosphere.

If that were all there was on these discs, I would still rush out and buy them. But there’s a very valuable and delightful extra; the overtures to some of Mozart’s less well-known operas. Back in 2016, Gábor Takács-Nagy told us on stage that Mozart would rather have been writing opera, but no-one would pay him to do that, so he went where the money was – piano concertos. He saw the piano concertos as mini-operas, so it is understandable that the overtures to Il sogno di Scipione, Lucio Silla, La finta giardiniera, Il re pastore and Zaide should be sprinkled among the concertos to introduce them. (Though there is no overture to Zaide, and Gábor Takács-Nagy chooses symphony no. 32, K318, to play the part.) They’re all played here with fire and delight.

The recordings, at the Stoller Hall, are crisp and engaging, but with power and presence to spare. These are discs to treasure, and play often.

Chris Ramsden

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