Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 19 and 23 (CD review)

Also, aria from Idomeneo. Helene Grimaud, piano; Mojca Erdmann, soprano; Radoslaw Szulc, leader, Bavarian Radio Chamber Orchestra and Symphony. DG B0016204-02.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) was a musical prodigy on the piano, a child genius whose father dragged him all over Europe to play before kings and courts. It's no wonder, then, that Mozart would produce some twenty-seven piano concertos during his relatively short life. He seems to have been born to the genre.

French pianist Helene Grimaud, who began playing the piano at the age of seven, also seems to have been born to the instrument. In the few recordings I've heard from her, she appears not only sensitive and virtuosic but more than willing to be herself as well, to reinterpret old favorites with new shadings of her own. Although I've not always agreed with her vision of things, I can certainly appreciate her desire not to be another sheep following every other pianist before her. If there wasn't room for a multitude of interpretations in musical performances, there would be no need for hearing more than one of anything.

Ms. Grimaud begins the program with the Piano Concerto No. 19 in F major, K. 459, where she takes the opening Allegro vivace at its word with a vivacious tempo and characteristically imaginative phrasing. Then she makes the slow center movement all the more lovely for its straightforward simplicity and delicacy, wrapping things up with a snappy finale that seems only fitting.

Between the album's two concertos, Ms. Grimaud chose to ask soprano Mojca Erdmann to sing "Ch'io mi scordi di te?" - "Non temer, amato bene" from Mozart's opera Idomeneo. The music makes a charming and wholly appropriate interlude in the proceedings.

In the disc's final work, the Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K. 488, Ms. Grimaud tends to race through the Allegro, even if the orchestra wants clearly to take their time. Perhaps she wanted to get to the ravishing central Adagio all the more quickly. Certainly, there is no questioning the radiance of her playing here, the tenderness in every note. No doubt, too, her extra-slow pace in the Adagio contributes to a small diminution of lilt and lift; alas, it's all a trade-off, a compromise. In the closing movement Ms. Grimaud is fleet, polished, and technically remarkable, if not quite so much fun as several of her colleagues, particularly Ashkenazy (Decca), Tan (Virgin), Curzon (Decca), Perahia (Sony), and Barenboim (EMI and BR Klassik).

DG recorded the two concertos live at the Prinzregententheater, Munich, May, 2011 and the aria in the Residenz, Herkulessaal, July, 2011. The concertos are miked close enough to reduce most audience noise, but the sonics are still rather soft and a little hollow, with a good number of extraneous sounds from Ms. Grimaud's footwork perhaps or hall resonance, I don't know. It's a distraction in any case and just one of the drawbacks of recording live. Otherwise, the piano is well out in front of the orchestra and fairly well delineated, the orchestral accompaniment smooth though not especially impressive. The vocal pieces, not done live, sound significantly cleaner and more natural, the voice sweet and clear. Not unexpectedly, the two concertos come complete with a disfiguring outburst of applause at the end of each.

Incidentally, there's one oddity about DG's labeling of the album: Neither the booklet cover nor the jewel-box spine mention the music involved. They only name the composer and the artist, Ms. Grimaud. I guess you are supposed to know instinctively (or simply remember) what Ms. Grimaud is playing on the disc once you've set it on your shelf. Or maybe the folks at DG figure people don't really care what Ms. Grimaud is playing, only that she's doing it.

JJP

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa