Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Concertos: No. 6; No. 8,
Angela Hewitt (pn, cond); Mantova CO
HYPERION 67840 (75:23)
Might this be the beginning of a complete cycle of Mozart’s piano concertos performed by Angela Hewitt? One can’t be blamed for hoping so; but unless and until it’s a certainty, there’s no point in getting too excited because these are among Mozart’s early piano concertos and, as
delightful as they are, still far from the masterpieces to come. They are not, however, juvenilia. The composer was 20 when he wrote the B?-Major and C-Major concertos in 1776, and 21 a year later when he wrote the E?-Major Concerto known as the “Jeunehomme,” probably the first of his piano concertos to gain a place in the standard repertoire.
As you no doubt already surmised, these are not performances aimed at the period-instrument audience. Hewitt, as usual, plays her magnificent Fazioli concert grand, and the Orchestra da Camera di Mantova is a modern-instrument chamber ensemble formed by Carlo Fabiano in 1981 and handpicked from among the best Italian and European players. Their numbers, however, are not small. A roster of personnel in the booklet lists a string body of 7:7:4:4:2, plus two flutes, two oboes, and two horns. That may be a few more strings than Mozart would have had at his disposal for the first of these two Salzburg concertos, which according to Hewitt’s own thoroughly researched program note would have been played not on a fortepiano (of which she says none existed in Salzburg at the time) but on a harpsichord. For K 238, Hewitt supplies her own cadenza, but she uses the last and most difficult in each of three sets of cadenzas Mozart supplied for K 246 and 271.
Hewitt goes to great lengths to separate fact from fiction surrounding K 271, the so-called “Jeunehomme” Concerto, especially with regard to how it got its name. The story of the misunderstood appellation is an interesting one, but you’ll have to buy the album to learn whodunit because it has no bearing on the music itself. What does have relevance is the consensus opinion that among Mozart’s piano concertos, K 271 is a boundary work, a clear divide between his early and mature styles. Not only is the E?-Major Concerto bigger in scale and more confident in stride, but, as Hewitt points out, based on the many dynamic markings, the keyboard part is now definitely written for the fortepiano and not a harpsichord.
One detects a slight contradiction here in Hewitt’s note, for even though K 271 represents a significant advance over the earlier concertos, Mozart was still in Salzburg in 1777 when he wrote it. So, (1) a fortepiano either suddenly showed up in Salzburg sometime between 1776 and 1777; (2) Hewitt is relying on hearsay when she mentions the absence of fortepianos in Salzburg; or (3) Mozart was looking beyond Salzburg to receive his latest concerto. And indeed we know that in that very year the composer took the concerto on tour with him to Mannheim, then on to Paris, and that he programmed it a number of times in Vienna during the 1780s.
Besides its enlarged scale and newly heightened rhetoric, the E?-Concerto is striking on at least a couple of other counts as well. For the first and last time, Mozart breaks with tradition by having the piano reply immediately to the orchestra’s opening bars instead of proceeding first with the usual orchestral exposition—an idea not lost on Beethoven. And for the unusually extended and intensely expressive Andantino—longer than the concerto’s first movement—Mozart moves to the relative minor key, C Minor. He would adopt this same scheme with an even darker emotional cast in his famous Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola, K 364.
Hewitt, as usual, gives clear, bright-eyed accounts of all three works. Her fingerwork in fast passages is remarkable, less so perhaps for its speed, which is quite fleet, than for its resolve to leave no note behind. Each keystroke is important and given its proper due. Slow movements, which move along at a singing pace, are delivered with lyrical poise and grace.
It’s tempting perhaps to compare Hewitt to Mitsuko Uchida, who has distinguished herself in Mozart and has gained an enthusiastic following among many. But I’m probably not the right critic to make that comparison, for there’s always been something about Uchida’s approach to Mozart—and to Schubert, too—that I haven’t liked; for lack of a better term, I’ll call it a tendency to play on top of the notes instead of getting into them.
Of late, there has been a number of recommendable releases of Mozart’s piano concertos, a couple of recent CDs by Russian pianist Mikhail Voskresensky being one example. But I suppose my preference in this repertoire, until something better comes along, is for Murray Perahia’s self-conducted set or Brendel’s with Marriner and the Academy of Saint Martin in the Fields. That something better, or at least equal to them, may just be Angela Hewitt, but I wouldn’t want to make that call prematurely. Assuming this is the beginning of a complete concerto cycle, she has a ways to go. For now, though, very strongly recommended.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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