MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major; Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major – Rudolf Buchbinder, fortepiano/ Concentus Musicus Wien/ Nikolaus Harnoncourt – Sony Classical

by | Apr 20, 2013 | Classical CD Reviews

MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 23 in  A Major, K. 488; Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, K. 503 – Rudolf Buchbinder, fortepiano/ Concentus Musicus Wien/ Nikolaus Harnoncourt – Sony Classical 88765409042, 56:15 ****:

Conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt, writing for the accompanying booklet to this recording (7-11 June 2012), recounts a series of happy events that took place allowing for the collaboration between fortepiano virtuoso Rudolf Buchbinder and Concentus Musicus Wien. In particular, through Harnoncourt’s personal ownership of a 1791 Anton Walter instrument, he could identify a gifted Amsterdam specialist in high quality reproductions of historic models, Paul McNulty. McNulty provided a new keyboard modeled upon one by Walter that could adopt to the conditions of the Grosser Musikvereinsaal in Vienna, and so Rudolf Buchbinder’s rekindled interest in original instruments and delicately balanced acoustics could bear fruit.

The unusual color of Mozart’s realized concertos becomes plain at once, in the 1786 C Major Concerto, whose broad exposition embraces virtually all of the major affects – risoluto, espessivo, dolce and scherzando – in progressive order. A distinctive clarity of articulation now reveals itself, along with a faster decay of the individual tones, that adds a pert vivacity to the textures unfolding before us. Despite the lack of potent girth in the fortepiano, as compared to the modern Steinway,  the interplay between the upward rockets in the keyboard part and the lucid winds and period strings manages a healthy affetuoso or espessivo that beguiles with a zesty charm. No less obvious, the salon intimacy of scale in Mozart, the resonance between the bassoon, the trumpets, and the tympani achieves a miraculously diaphanous character. For the cadenza in the first movement, Allegro maestoso, Buchbinder performs his own cadenza. Much of the filigree exploits the four-note Beethoven Fifth rhythmic motif, then segues into the sweeter aspects of the movement’s grand heroism.

The Andante enjoys long-breathed phrases, peppered by quick runs in the keyboard. The general tenor of the movement remains serene, although there are moments of disquiet and disturbed contemplation. The keyboard patterns set against the French horn possess their own suggestive power. A lyrical adagio seems to rise in the latter pages, effecting a dramatic transition to the spirited Allegretto that provides the rondo finale. Harnoncourt accents the rondo’s theme as a stately gavotte closely linked to the ballet sequence in Idomeneo. If the last movement does not project the same majesty as the first, it does display wit and hints of passion that transcend the first movement. Buchbinder blithely adds any number of ornaments into each presentation of the rondo theme, in good Mozart practice. The coda rushes forth in a blaze of glory, virile and triumphant.

The joys of the 1786 A Major Concerto, K. 488 have long established its lyrical supremacy among the late Mozart concertos. Certainly, the outstanding melodic anguish in the F-sharp Minor Adagio ensures its (Romantic) immortality. Buchbinder and Harnoncourt opt for bravura and fluency as their primary goals in the opening Allegro, itself marked by melodic invention and glorious harmonic modulations.  Buchbinder’s long lines seem to accelerate with each repetition of the ritornello theme, to which Buchbinder adds flourishes and filigree on which the woodwinds comment with crisp articulation. The ease of musical discourse makes the tempos exactly right, and the sudden injections of assertive energy merely open new vistas of transparent sound. A warm, affectionate patina emanates between Buchbinder 1792 Walter and the Concentus strings, so we feel comfortable with our old concerto in its “traditional” robes. The Adagio projects a “rich crepuscular warmth,” to paraphrase James Hilton’s depiction of Conway’s first meeting with the High Lama in Shangri-La. We, too, feel as though we had entered a land of perpetual, youthful enchantment. Like their work in the prior movements, Buchbinder and Harnoncourt bestow upon the brilliant and witty Allegro assai a “strange beatitude.” The Concentus bassoons, Milan Turkovic and Eleanor Froelich, make their irreverent presence known. The whole basks in a melodic and rhythmic security that endows this “authentic” performance with a musicality well beyond academic parameters.

—Gary Lemco

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