This new disc from the French pianist Hélène Grimaud is her first recording of Mozart piano concertos. This thoughtful artist has provided a typically enterprising program, combining two of Mozart’s middle period concertos with an aria for soprano and piano obbligato. The operatic connection is appropriate: in these concertos one often hears the overflowing high spirits of Mozart’s comic operas, alternating with moments of intense sadness, especially in the great slow movement of K488. No conductor is credited; Grimaud does not appear to have directed the orchestra from the keyboard à laRead more Daniel Barenboim or Mitsuko Uchida’s recent recordings, so it appears that this role was undertaken by the leader Radoslaw Szulc. These recordings are taken from live performances given in the Prinzregententheater, Munich, but the audience only makes its presence felt by its applause following the final track.
K459 begins with a relatively brisk tempo. The exposition is played in a somewhat understated fashion, with everything very neat and shipshape. The careful dynamic shaping and forward wind parts confirm that this is a modern instruments orchestra influenced by the historically informed performance school. Hélène Grimaud’s approach to the solo part is more old school, sounding rather Beethovenian at times. Her playing has warmth, while avoiding sentimentality and the preciousness that can afflict pianists making an occasional essay into Mozart. The passage-work can get a bit monotonous however and rarely dips below mezzo-forte. The slow movement is spacious with the orchestral introduction being again of a high standard. The understated phrasing gives the music an air of dignity. The dialogues between the soloist and the woodwinds are beautifully done. The minor key episode turns the intensity up a notch. The finale opens in high spirits and the fugal episode is launched with great precision and a sense of enjoyment. Grimaud continues in similar vein to the first movement, banging out the descending octaves in the left hand in quite a hefty fashion. The opera bouffe mood of the opening is kept in sight and the work concludes in that slightly over-excited mood that Mozart finales can reach.
The opening movement of K488 is taken again at a fairly brisk tempo though there is a slight rallentando for the second subject, rather in the vein of Nikolaus Harnoncourt. There is much to admire in the orchestra, with some beautifully shaped phrasing and luminous sound. Grimaud’s playing falls short of this degree of refinement however and rarely falls below mezzo-forte. She maintains this dynamic even when the woodwinds have the melody. Her cadenza, interestingly, is by Busoni, in which she sounds a little more at home than previously. The slow movement is very slow and is played with great concentration; the speed, unfortunately, robs it of any feeling of a Siciliano. The finale finds Mozart back in opera bouffe manner; this is one of his most infectious
moto perpetuo movements, and Grimaud and the orchestra keep the pot boiling merrily until the end. She sounds more comfortable with its more virtuosic writing, although there is again a lack of dynamic light and shade.
The aria is taken from the revised
Idomeneo, and is a tasty palate-cleanser between the concertos; Grimaud and the young soprano Mojca Erdmann display a fine rapport.
Mitsuko Uchida’s Mozart cycle with Jeffrey Tate and the English Chamber Orchestra was released in 2006, although the individual concerto recordings date back to the 1980s. The orchestra plays in more traditional style than their Bavarian counterparts, somewhat like the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields who also recorded a Mozart cycle with Alfred Brendel. Wind parts are quite forward and there is some nice dynamic shading from Tate. By contrast with the orchestra, Uchida is quite self-effacing; her tone is softer than Grimaud’s, and she has no problem receding into the background when another part has the melody. Her performances strike a basic tempo and mostly stick to that, with occasional fluctuations that are handled with great understanding between soloist and conductor. Some will find Uchida a bit too reticent, but I feel her approach has several advantages over that of Grimaud. First, it preserves the partnership that would have existed between a fortepiano and orchestra in Mozart’s time, with the bigger voice of the modern piano providing something in reserve. Second, one does not tire of her sound. Uchida and Tate are also very consistent throughout the cycle, something that might be overlooked but which speaks volumes for their musicianship.
I greatly enjoyed Hélène Grimaud’s previous recordings of Chopin, Brahms and Schumann, and so was favourably disposed towards this release. I can’t summon up the same enthusiasm for her Mozart, however, which I found a bit heavy-footed. Nevertheless Mozart style is a personal thing, and those who find many performances of this composer mincing and over-delicate may well enjoy these. On the positive side the orchestral contribution is of a very high class, and the aria between the concertos works well. Together with the extra electricity of the live recording, these factors combine to give this Mozart recording a most distinctive character.
Marvelously played performance that George Szell April 28, 2013By David P Sachs, MD (Palo Alto, CA)See All My Reviews"I first heard Ms. Grimaud's performance of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 19 in F major, K 459 on a recent United Airlines flight hardly the ideal acoustic environment to enjoy Mozart. But I did. George Szell was a frequent visitor in our home in Cleveland, when I was growing up; I own all of his Mozart recordings, including those with Robert Casadesus performing the Mozart concerti. Szell and Casadesus's Mozart CDs in my collections are in good company with new performance by Hélène Grimaud sitting beside them. Highly recommended!"Report Abuse