Sunday, June 3, 2012

How a "second-tier" Mozart piano concerto can command top-tier attention

Eduard Zilberkant: The New York Concert Artists' Evenings of Piano Concerti veteran conducted two of the four EPC IV concerts and was the unquestioned star.

by Ken

We're still talking about New York Concert Artists' latest "Evenings of Piano Concerti" series, EPC IV, which as I noted in Friday night's preview gave me an unexpected measure of sheer musical pleasure, with the largest dose coming thanks to the spirit of the playing conductor Eduard Zilberkant drew from the little pickup orchestra in the two concerts he conducted, the first and third.

But for today I thought we'd scale back and just focus on one of the two concertos I mentioned had particularly delighted me in the performance offered by 22-year-old Shiran Wang and Zilberkant in the third concert, Mozart's K. 414. We already heard the slow movement, with that beautiful main theme the composer borrowed as a form of tribute to the recently deceased J. C. Bach.

Before we turn to the complete concerto, I just wanted to highlight a little Mozartean surprise that occurs in the concluding rondo, in the form of what I will call the "countertheme." I don't know if it will have the same effect it does on me, but it's the kind of thing that has a way of seizing control of my brain and not letting go. (Some readers may recall the October 2009 Sunday Classics post called "Surprise! With wizards like Bach and Mozart, you never know what you may hear next," in which the Mozart surprise was a wonderful little figuration that bursts out of nowhere in the cello in the final variation of the theme-and-variations slow movement of the A major String Quartet, K. 464, and then works its way up through all the instruments.)

Countertheme of the Rondo of Mozart's K. 414 Concerto

This is nuts, I know, but I've extracted the portions of the Rondo that are based on this countertheme, starting with its first statement, from Murray Perahia's recording, which we'll hear complete immediately afterward. In this clip we hear ripped-out chunks that representing the following bits of the 6:19 whole: (1) 0:12-0:31, (2) 0:58-2:15, (3) 2:39-2:46, (4) 3:36-4:13, (5) 4:19-4:51 (including the start of the cadenza at 4:40 -- or 0:20 of our clip).

Now here's the whole movement.

MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 12 in A, K. 414:
iii. Allegretto

English Chamber Orchestra, Murray Perahia, piano and cond. CBS/Sony, recorded June 16-18, 1979

New York Concert Artists put together this promotional video for last year's Evenings of Piano Concerti (EPC III).


MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 12 in A, K. 414

i. Allegro

When I described K. 414 as a "second-tier" Mozart piano concerto -- trying to make clear that this didn't mean that I think it's second-rate -- maybe the simplest way to explain is that there's nothing immediately or automatically grabbing about the musical materials. It's left to the performers to make those materials grab and hold the listener's attention.

Rudolf Serkin, piano; London Symphony Orchestra, Claudio Abbado, cond. DG, recorded November 1981

Alfred Brendel, piano; Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Sir Charles Mackerras, cond. Philips, recorded Aug. 5-11, 2004

ii. Andante

We have two very nice but obviously very different performances of the lovely J. C. Bach-inspired slow movement.

Camerata Academica of the Salzburg Mozarteum, Géza Anda, piano and cond. DG, recorded May 1965

Philharmonia Orchestra, Vladimir Ashkenazy, piano and cond. Decca, recorded October 1980

iii. Rondo: Allegretto

And again, though not quite as starkly contrasting, we have a "more impulsive" and a "more measured" performance. (The tempo marking, note, isn't one or another form of the typically rondo-esque "allegro" but a more moderate Allegretto.)

Annerose Schmidt, piano; Dresden Philharmonic, Kurt Masur, cond. Eurodisc/Berlin Classics, recorded May 5-7, 1976

András Schiff, piano; Camerata Academica of the Salzburg Mozarteum, Sándor Végh, cond. Decca, recorded June 1986

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