BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 1; MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 12 – Leon Fleisher, p./ Cologne Radio-Sym. Orch./ Andre Cluytens/ Georg Ludwig Jochum (Mozart) – ICA Classics

by | Jan 29, 2014 | Classical Reissue Reviews

B00HFEBXVY  BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Op. 15; MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 12 in A Major, K. 414 – Leon Fleisher, p./ Cologne Radio-Symphony Orch./ Andre Cluytens/ Georg Ludwig Jochum (Mozart) – ICA Classics ICAC 5121, 61:03 [Distr. by Naxos] (2/3/14) ****: 

While living abroad between 1950-1958, Leon Fleisher (b. 1928) participated in a number of radio broadcasts, among which his work in Cologne, Germany finds happy documentation on this disc from ICA Classics. He works with Belgian maestro Andre Cluytens (1905-1977) in the Beethoven C Major Concerto (7 March 1960), a performance both softer in temperament and more lyrically fluent than his hard-core rendition from Cleveland with George Szell.  This judgment does not belie the intensely driven quality of Fleisher’s first movement cadenza, a dazzling display of colors and multifarious touches at the keyboard. Fleisher admits in his My Nine Lives that both he and Cluytens suffered from tense jitters in the course of the collaboration, but little evidence exists musically to testify to any nervousness.

The A-flat Major Largo allows Fleisher’s introspective character to reveal itself, and Cluytens colors the progression into a lovely, passionate song. The movement concludes with Fleisher’s affecting duet with the clarinet solo.  The last movement Rondo: Allegro scherzando proves to be pure devil-may-care Beethoven in his extroverted, irreverent self. Not satisfied to make the opening metrics ambiguous between downbeat and upbeat, Beethoven keeps shifting keys around – like the A Minor in the middle section – daring the music to find its way back from B Major to C Major, almost a forward look to the Richard Strauss Zarathustra. Cluytens catches as much fire as Fleisher, and together they hurtle – or tango – through Beethoven’s witty antics with fierce aplomb. The Cologne woodwinds provide a particular pleasure in their canny accents and deft interplay with both piano and tutti.

Fleisher has maintained real affection for Mozart’s 1756 A Major Concerto, K. 414, calling it “a beautiful concerto Mozart wrote shortly after his marriage, when he was living in Vienna and trying to put himself on the map. It’s sparer and more direct than some of the pieces he wrote while he was still living in Salzburg.”  Mozart characterized this work, one of a set of three he conceived in this period, as “brilliant, pleasing to the ear and natural, without being vapid.” Fleisher here makes robust music (25, 29 March 1957) with Georg Ludwig Jochum (1909-1970), brother of the more famous Eugen Jochum.  The piano part itself dominates the ensemble writing, both in expository material and in quasi-improvisatory passages. Mozart supplies a prepared cadenza for each of the three movements, along with Eingangen, or lead-in passages at several points. The Andante literally quotes a tune from a sinfonia by J.C. Bach, whom Mozart knew in London. The lovely Allegretto may not have been Mozart’s first choice to conclude this pert and muscular work, since he had composed an independent Rondo earlier. Fleisher brings a singing grace – frequently in a patented, light music-box sonority – to the keyboard part, an easy fluency that attests to his natural Mozart style.

—Gary Lemco

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