Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 9, “Jeunehomme” – Haydn: Piano Concerto No. 11

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Haydn & Mozart
LABELS: Warner
ALBUM TITLE: Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 9, “Jeunehomme” – Haydn: Piano Concerto No. 11
WORKS: Haydn: Piano Concerto in D, Hob. XVIII • Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 9; Rondo in A, K386; ‘Ch’io mi scordi di te’, K505
PERFORMER: Alexandre Tharaud (piano), Joyce DiDonato (mezzo-soprano); Les Violons du Roy/Bernard Labadie

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On their own terms, these accounts of the two concertos, plus the A major Rondo and the concert aria (featuring Joyce DiDonato, who is exquisite in every bar), are of superlatively high quality. The like-mindedness displayed by all participants marks a rare degree of rapport, with no stylistic discrepancy in the confrontation of modern piano with period instruments. Alexandre Tharaud himself dominates with comprehensive keyboard mastery, producing ravishing colouristic delicacies and exhibiting a nimbleness and flexibility of phrasing that has one listening to these much-recorded works with fresh ears.

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Criticism, at this level, will reflect personal taste – and for my taste this Mozart lacks muscle. The E flat Concerto, one of his youthful turning points, explores innovations of form and motivic material that can still take one’s breath away. Whereas András Schiff, Murray Perahia, Mitsuko Uchida and (further back) Rudolf Serkin and Clara Haskil, are all determined in their different ways to convey Mozart’s compositional daring, Tharaud and Bernard Labadie direct attention toward a beautifully polished musical surface. Tharaud’s ingenious cadenzas, introducing material from other Mozart works, prove a bit tiresome on repetition. The Haydn, a dazzling entertainment, responds brilliantly to such treatment – yet even here I found myself hankering, in the all’ungarese finale, for the rhythmic bite of a Martha Argerich, Alicia de Larrocha or (recently, with the same orchestra and conductor) Marc-André Hamelin. Max Loppert