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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No 9 in E flat major, K271 ‘Jeunehomme’ (1777, arr. for string quartet and double bass by Ignaz Lachner) [32:54]
Piano Concerto No 17 in G major, K453 (1784, arr. for string quartet and double bass by Lachner) [30:48]
Alon Goldstein (piano)
Alexander Bickard (double bass)
Fine Arts Quartet
rec. July 2019, The Concert Hall, Drew University, New Jersey, USA
Premiere Recordings
NAXOS 8.574164 [63:46]

Ignaz Lachner wouldn’t be the first name you’d come up with, in a pub-quiz on German composers, but not only was he born into a musical family in Bavaria, he was, in fact, the second of three famous Lachner brothers, who were all well-known composers at the time. While thought of primarily as a conductor, Ignaz Lachner wrote a considerable amount of music in almost every genre, of which his chamber music is generally held in highest regard today.

Of this, his six ‘piano trios’ are scored for the unusual combination of violin, viola and piano, where the otherwise ubiquitous cello is replaced by a viola. For him to write all six for this combination suggests that, not only did he feel the resulting change at the lower end of the strings paid off, but it also would seem to prove that he had a particularly keen ear for timbre and sonority. This would seem to stand him in good stead when attempting to compress the resources and sound of a regular classical orchestra into just a Piano Sextet – piano, two violins, viola, cello, double bass, and nothing more, to which this new CD very much attests.

The most informative sleeve-liner notes are divided into two parts, where English musicologist, Keith Anderson, has contributed the larger section. His brief was clearly to provide biographical and musical background, coupled with some degree of structural analysis, of the two original Mozart concertos on the disc, without, of course, referring to any instruments that wouldn’t appear in Lachner’s transcriptions. He also alludes briefly to transcriptions of some of Mozart’s other piano concertos by composers other than Ignaz Lachner, and which actually include his older brother, Vincenz, as well as Mozart himself.

The subsequent section is the work of American pianist Alon Goldstein, who is also the soloist here. Entitled ‘Mozart Rearranged’, his brief was rather to write about Lachner’s transcriptions themselves, rather than Mozart’s original score, something he does with the same insight as Anderson had demonstrated earlier.

This CD is the latest in Naxos’s series of Lachner’s Mozart concerto transcriptions, of which one has already been the subject of an extensive review by Brian Wilson in 2015, which featured concertos Nos. 20 and 21. The present release involves two charming major-key concertos – K271 in E flat, and K453 in G. The former work, the so-called Jeunehomme Concerto, named after French virtuoso Mademoiselle Jeunehomme, is distinguished by its opening, where Mozart briefly introduces the soloist as early as the second bar, while the latter work presents some interesting moments in terms of tonality, and remains one of Mozart’s best-loved concertos.

Goldstein points out that it was pretty common practice in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries for original scores to be rearranged for various practical reasons. For example, you might have been living in a small village, where visits by professional, or even good amateur orchestras would have been few and far between. But, were you to have two accomplished pianists there, then you could hear all of Beethoven’s symphonies, even if in arrangements for piano duet. There is a direct parallel today, where, due to the ongoing Covid pandemic, public performances are all but impossible. Now we have all the technological advances to stream everything right into the comfort and safety of our living rooms, or direct to our mobile phones and tablets.

Those of us of a certain age can no doubt remember having our first television, and being amazed that what we only ever saw at the cinema, was now becoming a reality at home, albeit initially only in black and white. But, and for some time afterwards, we were perfectly happy with monochrome, and while we would see grass and sky in similar shades of gray, we could always leave it to the wonders of the brain, and the miracle of visual perception, to allow us to convert gray on the screen to blue or green respectively in our mind’s eye.

Of course, if you are looking to acquire recordings of Mozart’s piano concertos in their original scoring, then this new CD of Lachner’s transcriptions – impressive as it is – will leave you wanting. But, if you’re happy to accept things at face value – two new chamber works by Mozart, in the fairly rare configuration of a piano sextet – then you will surely derive as much pleasure from listening to it, as I did. Mozart’s musical ideas are just as beguiling, whether in his original conception, or Lachner’s transcriptions. What this, and other similar CDs is really all about, is the seamless craftsmanship, so abundantly evident in every bar of Lachner’s reworking.

If you listen to Mendelssohn’s highly effective Piano Sextet in D, Op 110 (for piano, violin, two violas, cello, and double bass) where the piano part is certainly as concerto-like in its demands, you would never give it a second thought as being any kind of transcription, whether by Mendelssohn himself, or any of his contemporaries. Lachner merits exactly the same respect here.

Goldstein’s superb playing, which is equally matched and supported by the Fine Arts Quartet, with Alexander Bickard coming in on double bass, is one of the undeniable strengths of this new Naxos CD, together with the fidelity of the recording, and the well-written, and succinct sleeve notes. Couple this with its affordable pricing, and you do have a real bargain, whether you’re an avowed Mozart aficionado, someone who appreciates larger chamber ensembles with piano, or anyone, in fact, who just likes to sit back and enjoy their listening.
Philip R Buttall
Fine Arts Quartet: Ralph Evans and Efim Boico (violins); Gil Sharon (viola); Niklas Schmidt (cello)

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