Notes and Editorial Reviews
Concerto for Piano, Violin, and Strings.
Piano Concerto No. 18
Adrian Oetiker (pn); Mario Hossen (vn); Joel Mathias Jenny, cond; Les Orpheistes CO
DORON DRC 5037(68:45)
The lives of both Mendelssohn and Mozart exhibit parallels. Both were extraordinary musical prodigies as performers and as composers, both had demanding (exploiting?) fathers directing their careers, both had older sisters who were remarkably gifted musicians,
and both met untimely deaths—at 38 for Mendelssohn and at 36 for Mozart. This parallelism is explained as the reasoning used to couple these two concertos on this disc. The coupling, however, does not display any musical parallelism, for the Mendelssohn is a childhood product and the Mozart is a relatively mature product. More on the topic of coupling appears later in the review.
The Mendelssohn is a double concerto (violin and piano) composed at age 14. The composer’s childhood genius surpassed that of Mozart and that of Schubert. In this concerto, influences of Mozart, C. P. E. Bach, and early Beethoven are apparent, but an original stamp is clearly present. The orchestra is strings only, in keeping with the scoring of the string symphonies composed during the same early years. Mendelssohn’s characteristic contrapuntal writing, which made its entry later in the composer’s teens, is absent from this concerto. The performance here is certainly admirable. The soloists and orchestra are up to the task set before them by this 14-year-old genius. In
33:2, I reviewed a performance of this concerto by violinist Alexander Sitkovetzky and pianist Dinorah Varsi with the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra conducted by Michael Hofstetter. I used the phrase “consummate musicianship” to describe my impression. The playing on the current disc does not quite reach that pinnacle.
The star attraction on this disc is the Mozart B? (K 456) piano concerto, which I find to be one of the composer’s most appealing. Here, the performance is outstanding. Clarity of part-writing, freshness of approach through intelligent phrase shaping, and essential absence of tempo-tampering make this performance a supreme achievement. That the strings and woodwinds are not up to those of the London Symphony Orchestra (Serkin/Abbado) is less important than the fresh approach that conductor Joel Mathias Jenny and pianist Adrian Oetiker bring. If there is any fault to find, it might be in Oetiker’s occasional indulgences in tempo in the
Andante poco sostenuto
Coupling of K 456 with K 488 (the A-Major Concerto, No. 23) would make more sense, but nowhere on any available single disc can this coupling be found (per ArkivMusic). In the first movement of K 456 at bar 51 (1:36 on this disc), and also at the conclusion of the first movement, a passage occurs in the strings that later appears in the piano part in the last movement of K 488, first at bar 177 and then twice again later in the movement. Recurrences like this make good coupling rationales. For the Mendelssohn Double Concerto, the disc I reviewed in 33:2 sensibly couples it with an early piano concerto (age 12) and an early violin concerto (age 13) by the composer. In that coupling, the progression in composing maturity becomes apparent.
The performers on this disc are new to me, and are pleasant surprises in terms of their good musicianship. Swiss pianist Adrian Oetiker studied with Homero Francesch, and with Bella Davidovich at Juilliard. Bulgarian-born violinist Mario Hossen is a founder of Les Orpheistes Chamber Orchestra. Swiss conductor Joel Mathias Jenny started his career as principal string bass for the Basel Symphony Orchestra. During that time, he studied conducting, beginning his conducting career as assistant to the conductor of the Zurich Opera House. He is the principal guest conductor of Les Orpheistes Chamber Orchestra. Les Orpheistes is an international orchestra of outstanding musicians.
There are many fine CDs of the Mozart K 456 Piano Concerto, among them performances by Rudolf Serkin, Murray Perahia, Alfred Brendel, and Daniel Barenboim. The current disc is recommended not as a competitor in a ranking exercise but as a performance that has something new and rewarding to offer.
FANFARE: Burton Rothleder
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