No, you're not experiencing a bout of deja vu. The coupling of Mozart's cheerful Piano Concerto 17 with his more somber Piano Concerto 24 is fairly common on records. So common, in fact, that I reviewed two different recordings of the same pair of concertos within days of one another. This one features pianist Orli Shaham, Maestro David Robertson, and the St. Louis Symphony.
According to Wikipedia, Orli Shaham (b. 1975) is an American pianist, born in Jerusalem, Israel and the sister of violinist Gil Shaham. She graduated from the Horace Mann School in Riverdale, New York, attended Columbia University, and also studied at the Juilliard School.
Orli Shaham has performed with major orchestras throughout the world and won numerous awards, including the Gilmore Young Artist Award in 1995 and the Avery Fisher Career Grant in 1997. She has appeared with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Detroit and Atlanta Symphonies, Orchestre National de Lyon, National Symphony Orchestra of Taiwan, Cleveland Orchestra, Houston Symphony, St. Louis Symphony, Florida Orchestra, Rochester Philharmonic, Orchestra of La Scala (Milan), Orchestra della Toscana (Florence), and the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, among others.
In November 2008, she became artistic advisor to the Pacific Symphony and curator of their "Cafe Ludwig" chamber music series. She also has a radio feature carried by the Classical Public Radio Network called "Dial-a-Musician," in which she calls expert colleagues to answer listener questions. In 2003, Shaham married David Robertson, then Music Director of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, and they accompany her on the present recording.
The program starts with the Piano Concerto No. 17 in G major, K.453, written along with five others in 1781. The concerto is lyrical and playful, and Shaham's performance is as sunny as the piece requires, yet it remains classically refined. Mozart intended a degree of melancholy in the second-movement Andante, and Shaham does a good job bringing it out without undue gushiness. Then, there's the finale, which so pleased Mozart that he taught his pet starling to sing it. Shaham enjoys it and helps us to enjoy it as well in a sprightly reading. Here, Ms. Shaham impresses us most of all with her fluid virtuosity. It's a big, flowing a performance. And when I say big, I mean the orchestra appears a little too big here for Mozart's music.
You can tell from its lengthy introduction that No. 24 has a bigger feel to it than his previous concertos and a more somber mood. When the piano finally enters, it's quietly subdued, the pianist gradually increasing its emotional scope and building its dramatic intensity. Still, Shaham's playing is always graceful and elegant, as well as dazzling. Mozart intended the slow, middle movement to be sweet and simple, so Shaham tries to keep it that way, perhaps making it a tad too matter of fact at times. The concerto culminates in a set of variations comprising an essentially tragic finale, which Shaham plays with a fine precision, although, again, perhaps missing something of the drama.
As with so many pianists before her, Shaham's performances of both concertos are thoughtful and polished, the pianist adding a degree of warmth to her interpretations that sets them apart. Whether they sound a touch too "old-fashioned" in this day of historically informed performances remains a matter of personal taste.
Producer Erica Brenner and engineer Paul Hennerich recorded the concertos at Powell Hall, St. Louis, Missouri, in November 2017 and January 2018. Ultrasmooth sound and a good dynamic range help make this an enjoyable experience. Imaging is a bit on the large, sometimes overcrowded side, with bunches of instruments seeming to be on top of one another, especially in the left violin section. The piano is nicely placed, however, at center front, neither too far in front of nor buried by the orchestra. It makes for comfortable listening.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:
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