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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791) Piano Concerto No. 11 in F major, K413 (arr. string quartet and piano) (1781/2) [22:46] Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K488 (1786) [26:01]
Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra (No. 10) in E flat, K365 (1779) [24:54]
Robert Blocker (piano)
Peter Frankl (piano: K365)
Yale Philharmonia/William Boughton
rec. 2018, Yale School of Music, Morse Recital Hall, Sprague Hall, New Haven, USA NIMBUS NI6394 [73:32]
The music of Mozart is my first love and it has captivated me since I was very young, certainly under three. There is something about his music that has a feeling of magic and transports the listener to another world. This excellent Nimbus CD is a fine example of Mozart’s genius and has been a sheer joy. Robert Blocker is an internationally acclaimed concert pianist. He has been described by the Los Angeles Times as an artist of “great skill and accomplishment” who performs with “a measurable virtuoso bent and considerable musical sensitivity.” Pianist Peter Frankl made his London debut in 1962 and his New York debut with the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell came in 1967. Since that time, he has performed with many of the world’s finest orchestras. In the United States he has been a regular guest artist at many leading festivals and has given master-classes all over the world. Among his recordings, I highly rate his piano pieces by Schubert which I refer to when reviewing this composer on Vox.
The first piece, Piano concerto K 413, his 11th, “A Quattro”, arranged by Mozart, along with 12 and 13 for string quartet instead of orchestra. This works well as the winds and brass do not play an important role throughout the concerto, and Mozart himself advertised an "a quattro" version, for domestic use. I find Mozart’s piano concertos sublime and this adaptation makes for very attractive home listening especially with such fine playing and recording. The way that Mozart developed the piano concerto over a period of less than a decade is astonishing and clearly laid foundations for Beethoven’s magnificent Quintet and beyond into the nineteenth century. The first movement may owe a debt to J.C. Bach but it had me thinking of a then contemporary opera “Die Entführung aus dem Serail”, completed in 1782. There are often operatic references in Mozart’s concertos and later he used a song "Sehnsucht nach dem Frühling" in the finale of his final Concerto, No.27 K595. I particularly warmed to the Boccherini-influenced slow movement and the finale “Tempo di Menuetto”. Throughout there is real rapport between Robert Blocker and the Statera Quartet (Kate Arndt (violin), Gregory Lewis (violin), Martin Lambert (viola), Guilherne Nardelli Monegatto (cello)) and the interplay was very tangible. It makes for a simply magnificent twenty minutes. I notice that Robert Blocker has previously recorded Concertos 12-14 with the Blava Quartet on Naxos which I will now hope to track down.
I have, on occasion, rated the later Mozart piano concertos and concluded that Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K488 must be in the top three. I have a fair few recordings of this work as I’m sure many music-lovers have: Solomon, Curzon (studio and live), Barenboim, Ashkenazy, Perahia and Brendel, to name a few. All bring special qualities to this munificent work as does Robert Blocker who receives dedicated accompaniment from the very fine Yale Philharmonia with its roster being an ideal size for this work. As ever, William Boughton, whose CDs on Nimbus have been very well regarded for over thirty years, provides a very sympathetic baton. The whole work is a treasure from start to finish but unless you are averse to Mozart, the humour and panache of the Finale will bring a smile. At a concert Blocker and team would deserve a standing ovation.
The Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra (No. 10) in E flat is another wonderful work and was written about the time of the violin/viola Sinfonia Concertante K364. It was written for Mozart to play with his sister “Nanerl” who had played four-handed with Wolfgang. She was clearly a formidable pianist in her own right as the two pianists have equal participation. It was clearly a happy time for Mozart as both “Double” works exude joy and the slow movements are lyrical not mournful. I got to know this work through Christopher Nupen’s 1966 film “Double Concerto” featuring Daniel Barenboim and Vladimir Ashkenazy in a unique duet. Unfortunately, their studio recording from 1976 on Decca is more self-conscious. The recommended version remains Emil and daughter Elena, Gilels conducted by Karl Bohm (DG) with an honourable mention for George Solti and Daniel Barenboim, also on Decca. This version with Robert Blocker and Peter Frankl is right up there and was so enjoyable that I immediately played the final movement again. If you don’t know this work then this inspired performance will be a first-rate introduction.
There is a good booklet with notes on the music by Paul Hawkshaw of the Yale School of Music. This is coupled with biographies and photographs of the two pianists and William Boughton. There’s also a brief paragraph on the Statera Quartet who surely deserve a photograph. I find it hard to over-praise this wonderful record which is likely to be one of my favourites of the year.