Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Concertos: No. 1 in F; No. 21 in C; No. 25 in C
Derek Han (pn); Paul Freeman, cond; Philharmonia O
BRILLIANT 93288 (79:31)
The detailed contents of this disc, on the back of the jewel case, refer to Concerto No. 21, K 467, as “Elvira Madigan.” Did Constanze know about Wolfgang’s dalliance? When a movie moves into a Mozart disc, I have to wonder about the disc’s musical quality. To be fair, I blame the producer. Because the Madigan appelation has infected so many K 467 CDs, perhaps it should be
called “Elvirus Madigan.” Each time I become so infected, it makes me mad again.
This is my first experience hearing either Derek Han or Paul Freeman perform, and I’m very impressed with their collaboration. Of course, it helps to have one of the world’s truly great orchestras, the Philharmonia, at one’s disposal. Let me address principally the two C-Major concertos, K 467 and K 503. Han and Freeman treat these works admirably in many ways, but there are a few trouble spots.
Derek Han is a well-seasoned American pianist who should, based on this CD, be more widely appreciated than he has thus far been. A graduate of Juilliard at 18, he later studied with Gina Bachauer, Lili Kraus, and Guido Agosti. American conductor Paul Freeman also should be more widely heard. Freeman is music director of the Chicago Sinfonietta and music director and chief conductor of the Czech National Symphony Orchestra in Prague. Both Han and Freeman, throughout these two concerto performances, provide great clarity of line and very open access to Mozart’s glorious inner part-writing. The development section of the first movement of No. 25 benefits particularly from the Han and Freeman approach where, beginning at bar 256 (at 8:55), piano and woodwinds contrapuntally trade phrases. Han’s phrase shaping, more by dynamics than by agogics, benefits all movements of these concertos as Freeman lets you hear the orchestral detail.
There are some trouble spots. Most disturbing is the orchestral balance, which at times is harsh. The woodwinds and brass sometimes overwhelm the strings to produce shrillness. This spoils an otherwise excellent orchestral sound. The fault might not be Freeman’s, but might be the result of microphone placement or of poor mixing by the recording engineer. A less troubling situation is Han’s cadenzas, which are all a bit overwrought. They are unfamiliar to me, and their attribution is undisclosed in any of the printed material. Therefore, I must attribute them to Han. During the No. 21 first-movement cadenza, Han introduces the opening of K 550 (the great G-Minor Symphony, No. 40). This is an inexplicable intrusion, but maybe I’m too dense to see the connection. I was reminded of my comment in 31:2 in a review of Mozart’s G-Minor Piano Quartet of such a use of this K 550 material in the bar 136 improvisation in the last movement of the Piano Quartet at a concert by Yefim Bronfman,
. There, it was appropriate and an act of genius. Perhaps Derek Han also heard Bronfman at that time.
The Piano Concerto No. 1 is well performed, but Murray Perahia, in his traversal of all the Mozart concertos with the English Chamber Orchestra, sounds more convincing as to what early Mozart should sound like. The choices one has for the two C-Major concertos are large, and for just K 467, overwhelming, because everyone either loves or contracts “Elvirus.” You can get a broad understanding of how different these two concertos can sound and yet be marvelous Mozart, from Schnabel/Sargent (K 467), Perahia, Barenboim, and Serkin/Abbado, to name a few of my favorites. However, Han and Freeman have something unique to offer in terms of hearing Mozart with “new ears,” that transcends the trouble spots. And Han is a wonderful pianist. I would get this disc to hear more good Mozart from yet another source.
FANFARE: Burton Rothleder
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Piano no 1 in F major, K 37 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Derek Han (Piano)
Written: 1767; Salzburg, Austria
Concerto for Piano no 21 in C major, K 467 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Derek Han (Piano)
Written: 1785; Vienna, Austria
Concerto for Piano no 25 in C major, K 503 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Derek Han (Piano)
Written: 1786; Vienna, Austria
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