February 16, 2022
Mozart Piano Concertos, vol. 4: Nos. 20 & 25
Anne-Marie McDermott, piano.
Odense Symphony Orchestra/Sebastian Lang-Lessing
Total Time: 66:22
For her latest volume of this Mozart piano concerto survey, Anne-Marie McDermott turns her attention to two of the more significant works in this genre. K. 466 has its own interest due to its minor mode setting which is always interesting in Mozart’s hands. The 25th Concerto (K. 503) is considered the last of the 12 great concertos by the composer. Returning here from vol. 4 are the same forces and conductor. These are works that are moving us closest to the Romantic style and one can hear this unfolding well in the music and in this performance (K. 466 even uses Beethoven’s cadenzas).
The opening sonata-allegro movement is among the most symphonic of the concertos and one of the longer essays in this genre for Mozart. It was composed in December of 1786 and the interesting orchestral details are just one of the many delights of K. 503. One thing it is most notable for is its more idiomatic wind writing. The Odense wind players are brought forward a bit in the sound picture sometimes for these smaller solo moments but are overall well-balanced against the strings and piano nicely. Another of the delights is Mozart’s second thematic idea which winks a bit at the listening with its melodic line and rhythms seeming to echo La Marseillese. The subsequent two movements balance the concerto’s opening with first an exquisite “Andante.” Mozart chooses to play with expectations as well here with a sonata-allegro form that somehow forgets it needs a development section. It is in this movement even more so that the hints of wind writing are more wonderful to behold. Finally, we are treated to a mostly-joyful sonata-rondo that even includes a quote from Mozart’s own Idomeneo. This masterful work is Mozart’s most captivating and great achievements in this genre and McDermott finds an excellent balance between the wit and deep emotional depths of this music. Quite exquisite playing has a real sublime quality and the phrasing here with the orchestral interplay is equally paralleled as the ideas are shifted between different sections and the soloist. Also quite excellent are the attention to accents and other smaller details in the string writing that help provide even further enjoyment to this performance. In the 25th concerto, there is both that sense that we are at the height of Classicism, but with one foot beginning to nudge us ever onward into a new aesthetic era. This performance managed to bring this out quite well.
Written the year before (!), the Piano Concerto in d, K. 466 is one of those very few concert works of Mozart’s in a minor key. However, there are plenty of experimental approaches to form coupled with some of the composer’s most beautiful melodic writing to make this work a favorite concerto. Among the works many admirers was a young Beethoven who performed it often and wrote his own cadenzas for it. Many other pianist-composers throughout the 19th Century would also do the same. Things are a bit darker as the work opens with a syncopated rhythm one finds in the minor-mode symphonies. The opening theme will be further developed by the piano and a major-mode secondary theme tries to insert some joy but it dissipates, as does the movement itself. That quality will also close out the surprising rondo form of the central “Romance” which is appropriately filled with some of the most romantic melodies. The closing “Rondo” has a restless quality that includes little Mannheim Rockets (a nod to earlier style) but is most notable for its excellent technical writing for the soloist and a strange set of modulations. Again the wind writing here is also begin to show a bit more attention to idiomatic qualities infused from Mozart’s operatic style. That helps make the music even more dramatic than just the interesting ideas of form and melodic material.
As noted in my review of volume 4, if one wants to really get a sense of Mozart’s development as an orchestrator, his piano concertos are often excellent ways to peer into his exploration and experimentation with the developing orchestra. In K. 503 we get an excellent taste of the opera orchestra firmly planted as a symphonic body highlighting the new colors at one’s disposal. The Odense Symphony provides a superb backdrop for McDermott’s interpretation and her conceptions of this music are equally met by the orchestra. The K. 466 pulls that back just a tad to keep us in the Classical Era but those accents are a real harbinger of what is to come and the orchestra handles those moments quite well. Dynamic shading here is quite important and that makes this performance an even stronger one. McDermott’s entry in the opening movement is quite heartbreaking with out overdoing the pathos. There is one slight increase in tempo after the opening orchestral statement which pushes things forward a bit more before pulling back just slightly. It works for the interpretation here quite well.
Most likely listeners will have their own favorite recordings of these concerti. Mozarteans can be quite picky about how these works sound but this cycle is continuously proving that it can compete confidently with what other versions exist. The performance of K. 466 has a warmer, more ambient quality than K. 503 but both are provide a solid imaging and sonic detail that further supports the performance. Highly recommended.