Of these two famous piano concertos, it is the autumnal Concerto No. 27 in B flat – Mozart’s last work of its kind – that is perhaps better suited to the understated poetic eloquence of Maria João Pires’s playing than the more overtly dramatic Concerto No. 20. There’s nothing seriously disappointing about her performance of the latter, but there are moments when the demonic side of Mozart’s D minor key is slightly underplayed. There’s a curious detail in her account of the Concerto’s opening movement: the mysterious opening bars of the initial tutti have the upper orchestral strings in nervous syncopation, underpinned by a recurring ‘growling’ figure in quick notes in the cellos and basses. When Mozart later transfers the same passage to the solo piano, he replaces the syncopation with a continual pattern of semiquavers, leaving the bassline essentially as it was before. For some reason, Pires smooths out the bass growls, playing them simultaneously with the right hand’s semiquavers, and the music’s sense of urgency and tension is slightly dissipated as a result. But it’s a small point, and the playing is beautiful throughout, with the slow movement in exactly the right tempo for its agitated middle section to unfold convincingly at the same pulse as the calm surrounding material.
Claudio Abbado and his Orchestra Mozart offer fine support in both Concertos, and the performances as a whole have an elegance that cannot fail to give pleasure.