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Mozart piano CHAN20166
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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Overture to Der Schauspieldirektor, K486 (1786) [4:12]
Piano Concerto No. 22 in E flat, K482 (1785) [35:04]
Piano Concerto No. 23 in A, K488 (1786) [25:14]
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano)
Manchester Camerata/Gábor Takács-Nagy
rec. 9-10 October 2021, The Stoller Hall, Hunts Bank, Manchester, UK
CHANDOS CHAN20166 [64:34]

The Overture to The Impresario is great fun. A loud start, then alternating quite feathery strings from Gábor Takács-Nagy and frolicsome, loud tuttis before a briefly hearty, heroic climax (tr. 1, 0:28). A quieter, descending second theme (0:41) heralded by the first violins and echoed by oboes and bassoons, is complemented by an ascending third theme (1:00) in oboes and bassoons and later violins where the rhythms become smooth and lyrical. Soon we’re back to the urgent panache of the opening theme rhythm and development (1:29) of rigorous interchange between the first theme’s beaconing sustained notes and skittering quavers. In the recapitulation the third theme (from 3:19) is presented in canon between the first violins and flutes. Takács-Nagy displays all this seamlessly with tremendous joie de vivre.

Concerto 23 is the more distinctive of the two concertos on this CD in its more chamber manner, without timpani and the galant March style Mozart uses in many concerto openings. Takács-Nagy’s introduction brings a smooth, mellow flow from strings and woodwind in turn, then firmer, but still laid-back tuttis and gentle treatment of the gorgeous second theme (tr. 5, 0:55) as it slides down chromatically. Jean-Efflam Bavouzet’s repeat of these themes offers merry expansion, comparably vivacious yet not forced. In the second theme’s repeat he enjoys trippingly elaborating the convivial clarity of the first flute and first bassoon doubling the first violins. After a pause the orchestra introduces a third, dreamy and ruminating theme (4:19) which the piano immediately makes more decorative. In its second part the woodwind’s probing, rising theme (4:43) provokes vivacious, dancing descents from the piano and strings (4:47), the alternation of these constituting the development. After this the second theme recapitulation is notably serene. The cadenza (9:02) is Mozart’s, beginning with the piano’s dancing retort to the second part of the third theme before later grand gestures culminate in delicious cascades of falling arpeggios then a scuttering ascent in breakneck semiquavers from left to right hand.

I compare Imogen Cooper’s piano/director 2006 concert recording with the Northern Sinfonia (Avie AV2100). Timing the movement at 11:39 to Bavouzet/Takács-Nagy’s 10:42, Cooper’s orchestral introduction is more relaxed but also rich, the melodious woodwind more savoured, the tuttis more emphatic. Her second theme has more longing and dramatic focus, her third dreamier yet its second part initially gentler. Cooper presents Mozart’s cadenza with early emphasis on ostentation yet later more poise. Cooper spotlights dramatic elements, a romantic approach, where Bavouzet leaves the music to speak for itself, a classical approach.

The Adagio slow movement would seem to favour Cooper’s manner: an aria rising in appeal to heaven by the lonely piano. But Bavouzet offers a valid alternative: sober emotion recollected in tranquillity. Takács-Nagy’s first violins and clarinet with echoing bassoon introduce a descending second theme (tr. 6, 0:50) of a more pained community sharing the grief. Bavouzet’s ornamented repeat distils the experience, again distancing the sorrow a little until it is suddenly exposed by his two-octave leap to coloratura pitch E (2:05). A third, rescuing theme from clarinet and flute (2:23) provides consolation. In his repeat of it, Bavouzet’s added turn at the first phrase cadence (2:49) enhances its rounded quality, though his added turn in his next entry (3:45) just before a written out one (3:48) makes me uncomfortably conscious of the artifice surrounding the emotion. Yet in the coda his filling out of the bare melodic line in its sequences (5:57, 6:12) is expressive and telling.

Cooper and her band bring more raw emotion: her tone more emotive and glowing, operatic keening from the orchestra. Cooper’s two-octave leap is like a yell. Everything is more pointed, including the jollity of the third theme and you’re conscious of more dynamic shading, especially with the cowed return of the first theme. Unsurprisingly, in the coda Cooper fills out the bare melodic line more extensively and sensationally.

After his relative restraint in the slow movement, Bavouzet contrasts chattering glee in the Allegro assai rondo finale. Takács-Nagy’s tutti rondo theme matches Bavouzet’s in bubbly lightness. Bavouzet then brings a second theme, the first episode (tr. 7, 0:52), whose second phrase is outrageously ostentatious and leads to further brilliance. The flute and bassoon try curbing this with a third theme in E minor (1:30). Bavouzet demolishes it with headlong quaver descents and replaces it with an innocently cavorting fourth theme in E major (2:27). After the return of the rondo theme the piano’s flurries wander into F sharp minor (3:13) but a homely fifth theme on clarinets and flute (3:41) gets us back to A major. All the themes then return and you admire the pianist and orchestra’s seemingly inexhaustible energy.

Cooper, timing the finale at 7:58 against Bavouzet/ Takács-Nagy’s 7:23, you’d think steadier, but seems faster because of the greater pep of her articulation of rhythms, a brighter bustling, even didactic, manner, more exciting but less easy to live with than Bavouzet/Takács-Nagy. Cooper’s exhilaration misses out on the carefree chutzpah of the fourth theme and genial warmth Bavouzet/ Takács-Nagy find in the fifth theme.

Best of Concerto 22? For me, the first movement. Bavouzet/Takács-Nagy bring warmth as well as tuttis of bombast and the musing capabilities of the woodwind and horns are well realized, as is the mellowness of the second theme (tr. 2, 1:30). Bavouzet’s first entry plays with the material, charting his own course distinctively distanced from the tuttis yet soon finding companionship with the woodwind. The themes he introduces he makes memorable: the relaxed play of the third (4:32) and merry glistening of the fourth (7:30). The cadenza ‘by Bavouzet after Hummel’ (10:50) incorporates adaptations consistent with Bavouzet’s style elsewhere, like adding decoration to the presentation of the second theme (11:11) and he catches well the way Hummel makes its treatment gradually more guarded. In the concerto’s finale (9:18) Bavouzet enjoys Hummel’s cadenza’s increasing showmanship in the rondo theme then first episode (9:58), but felicitously cuts Hummel’s closing left-hand references to the rondo theme, creating smoother transition to Mozart’s immediate right-hand return.

Michael Greenhalgh

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