MOZART: MOMENTUM 1785 = Piano Concertos–No. 20 in D Minor K. 466, No. 21 in C Major K. 467, No. 22 in E-flat Major K. 477; Fantaia in C Minor, K. 475; Piano Quartet No. 1 in G Minor, K. 478; Masonic Funeral Music in C Minor, K. 477 – Leif Ove Andsnes, piano and conductor/ Matthew Truscott, violin/ Joel Hunter, viola/ Frank-Michael Guthmann, cello/ Mahler Chamber Orchestra – Sony (4/8/21) (2 CDs 133:45) *****:
Norwegian piano virtuoso Leif Ove Andsnes (b. 1970) explores in some depth Mozart’s crucial year in Vienna, 1785, which produced music for the keyboard – much as the Vienna public expected – but compositions of singular quality and refinement, works which demonstrate a new dramatic as well as lyrical intensity. Mozart’s new approach to his eingang, his piano entry, means to guarantee audience fascination and surprise, especially when the keyboard does not merely repeat what the orchestral tutti has established. The minor-key works of the period, moreover, participate in Mozart’s subjective approach to the sturm und drang temperament that evolved from C.P.E. Bach’s “sensitive” or empfindsamkeit style.
With his well-established, academic and poetic insight, Leif Ove Andsnes, (rec. February and November 2020) directing from the keyboard, follows a Mozart tradition that eminently balances fluent energy, proportion and nuance, much in the fleet manner of Edwin Fischer. Andsnes’s choice of cadenzas – the Beethoven and Hummel for the D Minor Concerto and the Geza Anda and Dinu Lipatti for the C Major Concerto – demonstrates a willingness to integrate musical ideas from those musicians he himself reveres for their unique contribution to the genre.
For the rich diversity in Mozart’s thought, Disc 2 proves more bountiful even beyond the treasures of the two concertos in D Minor and C Major, with the respective glories in their central movements. The Fantasia in C Minor of May 1785, with its six connected sections, provides a world of its own, lyrical, dramatic and improvisatory, by turns. To say that the piece anticipates Beethoven in its potent sforzandi, tremolos, and brilliant scalar passages seems an understatement of its far-reaching emotionalism. The G Minor Piano Quartet from October 1785 no less acknowledges Mozart’s strong emphasis for dark colors and the tragic muse. At the time of its composition, the demanding piano part offended Hoffmeister’s estimate of the Viennese tolerance for difficult, turbulent music, and he refused to publish it. As this performance brings out, the writing, often canonic, for violin and viola proves equally daunting and virtuosic. A combination of learned counterpoint and emotional intimacy suffuses the lovely Andante in B-flat Major, a true moment of repose in the midst of a pained universe. The last movement, Rondo: Allegretto moderato, extends the mirth that the Vienna public could well appreciate here, in a novel form of the piano quartet, which prior had no precedent.
For his grand finale, Andsnes juxtaposes two severely contrasting opera, the July 1785 Masonic Funeral Music in C Minor and the Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat Major from December of that year. Everything about the Masonic Funeral Music testifies to Mozart’s devotion to the rites and ideals of the Freemason order: composed in memory of two late members of the lodge, Duke Georg August of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and Count Franz Esterházy von Galántha, members of the Viennese aristocracy, the work incorporates a Gregorian chant, and its scoring reflects the talents of fellow Masonic instrumentalists, Anton David and Vincent Springer, who played the basset horn. That the text of this music – though the present score remains strictly instrumental – took its theme from the Lamentations of Jeremiah becomes singularly evident in the powerful chromatics of the work. Mozart kept the sound in mind when he scored the aria of Two Men in Armor for the trial scene in his splendid The Magic Flute.
And so, the pomp and circumstance of the Piano Concerto No. 22 reminds us that of all of Mozart’s compositional activities, his favorites ever remained piano concertos and operas. The nuanced colors of the first movement, Allegro – with a cadenza by John Fraser – have the benefit of a well recorded bassoon part. The Andante of this otherwise optimistic music reverts to the tragic C Minor, a poignant set of variations on a theme. The last movement Allegro finds itself interrupted by a slow minuet similar in tone to Count Almaviva’s entreaty for forgiveness in The Marriage of Figaro. Once more, Geza Anda – we well recall his special performance from his own keyboard of the C Major Concerto that provided the (repetitiously) sad theme for the movie Elvira Madigan – is the source of the cadenza.
We have spent over two hours in the presence of a most productive year in Mozart, courtesy of a splendidly gifted and committed ensemble of musicians led by Leif Ove Andsnes. It behooves us to savor every moment.
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