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Mozart, Schumann: Piano Concertos; Chopin: Variations On Mozart's Theme "la Ci Darem La Mano"

Mozart / Vienna Symphony Orchestra / Luisi
Release Date: 01/28/2014 
Label:  Solo Musica   Catalog #: 189   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Frédéric ChopinRobert SchumannWolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Margarita Höhenrieder
Conductor:  Fabio Luisi
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 15 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MOZART Piano Concerto No. 23. CHOPIN Variations in Bb on “Là ci darem la mano” from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, op. 2. SCHUMANN Piano Concerto Margarita Höhenrieder (pn); Fabio Luisi, cond; Wiener S SOLO MUSICA 189 (75:06)

Margarita Höhenrieder is a name new to me, but apparently not one new to many in the business. Read more Oddly, her biography begins, “Margarita Höhenrieder, an outstanding pianist from Munich, rarely performs in concerts. She is little known to the general public but highly respected among experts.” Perhaps that is why I’ve never encountered her before. That is a shame, as her playing on the current disc is at times electrifying. Her biography is equally impressive. She has collaborated with numerous conductors. One might be familiar with a few of those names: Claudio Abbado, James Levine, Riccardo Chailly, Lorin Maazel, and Fabio Luisi. She has collaborated with a variety of outstanding orchestras including the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Dresden Staatskapelle, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, the Mozarteum Orchestra of Salzburg, and the New York Philharmonic. And she has even won a few major competitions, among them the Busoni Competition in Bolzano (1981), joining the ranks of her colleagues Martha Argerich and Jörg Demus.

Her recital begins with one of Mozart’s most popular concertos, that in A Major, K 488. Höhenrieder can obviously handle the numerous difficulties posed by this not-hardest-of-concertos, even of Mozart’s numerous examples. But she goes for more: The pianist here, joined by exceptional and exceptionally lucid accompaniment courtesy of Fabio Luisi and the fabulous Wiener Symphoniker, goes for an understated and gentle approach to this concerto. This is not always my favorite way with Mozart, but if one is to do it then this is the concerto with which to do it in. And never does the pianist sound pretty (not that her playing is not gorgeous—it is!) or wimpy: This is dignified and inspired playing which could tame the most savage of beasts. What is most noteworthy here is her awareness of her part in the concerto at all times—she is not always the soloist; at times she is just a bit of color in the whole of the orchestral fabric. And the effect is at times simply magical! And if I use the term “pleasant” for much of this concerto, then one need take it how they will—I mean it in the best possible way.

It is her Chopin playing that I find simply electrifying, though. This is not the most extroverted playing of this work I know, nor the most outwardly virtuosic; it is certainly not flamboyant in just about any way. It does sound early 19th century, however: the lean orchestral playing, the magical and extraordinarily intimate opening, the special quality achieved by careful attention to matters of detail in regards articulation, phrasing, texture, and the rest. At its best it reminds one that Chopin was not a genius who came out of nowhere; rather he was very much a product of his generation—an admirer of Mozart and Weber, a friend of Mendelssohn, but one with his own very special voice. It is a joy to hear Chopin in this way, cleared up of all the nostalgia, the sentimental nonsense which so often pervades the playing of so many pianists. In Höhenrieder’s hands this piece sparkles with its own clarity, and one can easily see how Schumann’s famous declaration of this opus was so very positive—indeed, “Hats off, gentlemen, a genius!” for both the composition and this performance of it.

The last work on the recital is the Schumann A-Minor Concerto. Originally conceived as a one-movement Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra as early as 1841, modeled after Weber’s Konzertstück , this now three-movement concerto was not fully formed and finished in the state which we all know and love it today until years later—right around mid-1845. Höhenrieder here too has an elegant approach to the work, which is not really foreign to the composition—just listen to the jovial and graceful second movement, or the energetic and cheerful finale—yet there are moments when one craves just a bit more frenzied and unbridled passion and energy. This was and still is, after all, a piece which reflects the deep love that Schumann had for his wife, one which we find not only in the concerto’s main theme (C-H-A-A, a cryptogram which represents his beloved Chiarina; the English spelling ruins this: C-B-A-A), but also in Robert’s use of a theme of Clara’s in the intermezzo.

Though I may have my quibbles about this recording—as usual—they are few and far between the wonderful aspects found here. For the Mozart and the Chopin alone this disc is highly recommended; for the bonus a very fine Schumann is included. And all of this in wonderful and resonant sound, with fine program notes, and most importantly, with very fine orchestral playing and conducting, without which this release would simply not be as riveting: This is a disc to savor. That said—grab it and enjoy!

FANFARE: Scott Noriega
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Works on This Recording

Variations for Piano and Orchestra in B flat major on Mozart's "Là ci darem", Op. 2 by Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Margarita Höhenrieder (Piano)
Conductor:  Fabio Luisi
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1827; Poland 
Length: 6 Minutes 16 Secs. 
Concerto for Piano in A minor, Op. 54 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Margarita Höhenrieder (Piano)
Conductor:  Fabio Luisi
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1841-1845; Germany 
Length: 30 Minutes 11 Secs. 
Concerto for Piano no 23 in A major, K 488 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Margarita Höhenrieder (Piano)
Conductor:  Fabio Luisi
Period: Classical 
Written: 1786; Vienna, Austria 
Length: 26 Minutes 16 Secs. 

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