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MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major; Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor – Martha Argerich, p./ Orch. Mozart/ Claudio Abbado – DGG

MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, K. 503; Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466 – Martha Argerich, piano/ Orch. Mozart/ Claudio Abbado – DGG 479 1033, 61:44 [Distr. by Universal] (2/11/14) ****:

Recorded at the Lucerne Festival, August 2013, these live performances of beautifully balanced Mozart concertos bid a poignant farewell to a collaborative partnership that had begun fifty years before.  The enclosed booklet contains pictures of the youthful duo, when Argerich had joined the DGG label to record Prokofiev with Claudio Abbado (1933-2013). Their opening foray addresses the massive 1786 C Major Concerto of Mozart, among his large, “symphonic” concertos that move in the opening Allegro maestoso through majestic periods and the four affects – risoluto, espessivo, dolce, and scherzando – in academic order but with such facility of invention and internal cohesion that we hardly feel the architectural discipline. Keyboard rockets ascend to a fateful G of the dominant that soon yield to modulations into C Minor and E-flat Major. The scoring occasionally thins out into a transparent woodwind quintet with keyboard, elegqant chamber music amidst the huge flourishes of symphonic harmony. Argerich plays the first movement cadenza by old colleague Friedrich Gulda – a brief but bravura interlude – before the combination of warbling and cascading strings and horns takes us to the coda.

More intimacy on a grand scale marks the F Major Andante, music that indulges Mozart’s sensitivity to alternations of light and dark, with frequent adventures into minor keys. Flautist Jacques Zoon and bassoonist Daniele Damiano share the warm spotlight with Argerich, who graduates her colors with suave finesse. Soon principal horn Nury Guarnaschelli extends the privileged circle for this noble cantilena that often has Argerich adjust her very slow notes to become quicksilver moments of keyboard tracery. The Allegretto finale borrows a gavotte from Mozart’s own opera Idomeneo, here become a rondo tune of remarkable, contrapuntal plasticity. The music scampers along until it reaches a point in which Argerich finds herself surrounded by cellos and basses in rare harmony. She leans into the melodic phrases with romantic affection. The ensuing beauty soon attracts that wind quintet from earlier in the concerto. Typically, Mozart “recovers” from his sojourn into unhappy wisdom with renewed energy for his playful look (with added grace notes) at life, which is “tragic but not serious,” to quip Viennese.

Mozart’s 1785 D Minor Piano Concerto announces its fervent sturm und drang from the opening syncopated measures, which Abbado emphasizes for their dramatic fury, easily adumbrating the sympathies of Ludwig van Beethoven. Beethoven himself supplied the cadenzas for this performance. Argerich’s throbbing entry coalesces into the orchestral fabric with intense energy, only lightening in texture and dynamics at the secondary tune, with bassoon punctuations. What always astonishes us in this concerto is Mozart’s uncanny fusion of abysmal visions with the charm of rarified beauty, the ability to see the Divine Comedy in the midst of a militant Inferno. Argerich does not skimp of potent bravura, especially in her octaves and runs, culminating in the blazing Beethoven cadenza that graces a striking decision by Mozart to end this tumultuous movement softly.

If any music might serve as a “swansong” for a musical career, certainly the B-flat Major Romanza from Concerto No. 20 will act as the harp of Orpheus. Essentially a rondo movement, the music maintains from Abbado a healthy walking tempo, not mired in histrionics. Of course, at the second episode, we have that fierce outbreak of G Minor primal passions from the opening movement, Argerich and orchestra in syncopated dialogue. This colossal flame too evaporates into the idyll that began the movement, and the introspective song seems to float in a temenos, or sacred space, entirely its own. Exuberant dialogue defines the explosive Rondo: Allegro assai, once more rife with feverish syncopes. Oboe Lucas Macias Navarro adds his individual color to the already-noted flute and horn. Argerich adds roulades ad libitum, sending the ritornello into new spins, alit with brass colors, soon aided by bassoon and flute in spirited colloquy. Mozart has already moved to D Major, likely just to dash conventional expectations while revealing salvation in the midst of darkness. The romantic Beethoven contributes his second cadenza, which Argerich plays as if she were performing chunks of the Appassionata. Then bubbling woodwinds and superheated strings accompany Argerich to a nobly affectionate coda, which marks more than the “mere” closing of a magnificent artwork.

—Gary Lemco

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