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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concertos - Volume 2
Piano Concerto No. 16 in D major K. 451, (1784) [23:33]
Piano Concerto No. 15 in B-flat Major K. 450, (1784) [24:22]
Piano Concerto No. 5 in D Major K. 175, (1773) [21:53]
Anne-Marie McDermott (piano)
Odense Symfoniorkester/Kenneth Montgomery, Gilbert Varga, Andreas Delfs
rec. 2017/18, Carl Nielsen Concert Hall, Odense, Denmark
BRIDGE 9523 [59:54]

The American pianist Anne Marie MacDermott has now completed the second volume of her Mozart piano concertos odyssey, the first containing concertos nos. 6 (K238) and 13 (K415), having gained a generally enthusiastic reception (review). That initial volume also featured her collaboration with the Odense orchestra but a different conductor, Scott Yoo, from those featured here. Presumably this sets the trend for the whole project.

It may well be that present world events will preclude the completion of the project, but be that as it may, it is already clear enough that the identification of each volume makes no kind of musicological sense because it is somewhat arbitrary. No harm in that, but perhaps it would have been better to leave the articulation of the volumes until later on.

McDermott is an immensely gifted artist who exudes a command of the repertoire she surveys. While the listing of the concertos on the disc is in the opposite order of chronology, with K175 coming at the end, it makes more sense to discuss them the right way around, as James Keller does in his urbane and well-informed booklet notes. The familiar numbering of the concertos lists K175 as the Fifth, but its predecessors were all rearrangements of keyboard music by Johann Christian Bach and others, with up to seven examples, so the whole issue is already a can of worms. Since the concertos are familiar to us in established numberings, let’s not rock the boat now. It’s a familiar enough problem for music lovers, just think of Mendelssohn’s opus numbers as another example.

1773 was a year in which the young Mozart matured considerably, not least through his experience as a composer of opera, having recently completed Lucio Silla - and the rather grand style of opera seria is found immediately in the opening tutti of K175, adopting the dramatic key of D minor, replete with trumpets and drums. The conductor Andreas Delfs captures this spirit which is taken up wholeheartedly by McDermott from her initial entry. Thereafter, the music proceeds purposefully in what is an ambitious and successful attempt to write a full-scale concerto – note that the twenty-minute plus timescale matches those written in Vienna a decade later.

1784, the year of K450 and K451, was an annus mirabilis for Mozart as composer of piano concertos. At this time, having established his presence as freelance musician in Vienna, his subscription concerts featuring piano concertos were hugely important to his career, since they allowed him to appear before his public in the dual role of soloist and composer. He wrote no fewer than six piano concertos that year, and together they represent a new flowering of his creative genius, more ambitious and deeply conceived than any concert music he had composed hitherto.

Each concerto has its own distinctive personality, which can be identified through its chosen key and associated scoring. Thus the B flat Concerto K450 is the most lyrical of the three concertos collected here, and scored without trumpets and drums while offering wonderful opportunities for the winds, particularly flute and oboe. In collaboration with her conductor Gilbert Varga, McDermott presents a direct and rhythmically alert interpretation, though there is room for more lyricism than she chooses to find. There is always more than one way to perform a masterpiece, of course, but listen to the interpretations of, say, Mitsuko Uchida or Alfred Brendel (both on Philips) and there is a different dimension.

The more outwardly virtuosic D major Concerto K451 suits McDermott’s approach very well indeed. Here, she joins with the conductor Kenneth Montgomery in a magnificent performance underpinned by a close unity with her orchestral colleagues, which is allied with a vibrant and compelling rhythmic vivacity.

Terry Barfoot

Previous review: Robert Cummings

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