MOZART: Piano Concertos Nos. 15 & 27 = Martin Helmchen, p./ Netherlands Ch. Orch./ Gordan Nikolić – PentaTone

MOZART: Piano Concertos Nos. 15 & 27 = Martin Helmchen, piano/ Netherlands Ch. Orch./ Gordan Nikolić – PentaTone Classics multichannel SACD PTC 5186508, 55:26 [11/19/13] [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

Martin Helmchen’s second pairing of Mozart piano concertos (the first had K. 415 and K. 491) presents two very different challenges to the interpreters. In K. 450 the pianist is a charismatic character, endlessly charming and playful and affectionate, surrounded by a loving crew of powerful, expressive strings and sweet-toned, suggestively bucolic winds. The effect throughout is quite exhilarating.

In K. 595, matters are more severe and tentative; the harmonic progressions in the first movement become tentative, and almost lose their way. The piano’s role is much more a human voice, a commentary and a consolation to the orchestra’s pleading in which the woodwinds often sound forlorn.

What Helmchen, just turned 30, and the Dutch chamber orchestra do in K. 450 is nothing short of a miracle. The bubbling , the phrasing, the inventive spontaneous additions of runs and trills laughing and crying all sound totally spontaneous and are obviously based on a deep knowledge and love of Mozart’s music. The orchestra too plays its pivotal role with rare involvement, virtuosity and ability.

As brilliantly delightful and alive as the outer movements are, Helmchen and team reserve their special attention to the slow movements; these are delivered with a sense of how they sound on the pianos Mozart knew, which could be sustained over conventional pulses to produce different dimensionalities and phrasings in time, can be recreated with modern instruments. These transcendent moments happen occasionally in each of the movements; Helmchen’s opening statement of the Larghetto of 595 is one such moment.

Recorded in the modern wood and glass NedPho Koepel in Amsterdam, the sound is exceptional, digital at its best, remarkably clear and open with a liquid quality to the sound that perfectly captures the bloom of what happens when instruments, particularly Helmchen’s pearlescent Steinway, make music (in SACD surround mode, the effect is even more tangible). The experience is immeasurably enhanced by Ronald Vermeulen’s perceptive and affectionate liner notes.

—Laurence Vittes

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