Jean-Efflam Bavouzet performs Piano Concerto No. 17 and 18 by Mozart

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COMPOSERS: Mozart
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Mozart
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 17 in G, KV 453; Piano Concerto No. 18 in B flat, KV 456; Divertimento, KV 137
PERFORMER: Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano); Manchester Camerata/Gábor Takács-Nagy
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10929

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These two concertos belong to Mozart’s miraculous year of 1784, when he composed no fewer than a half-dozen such works for his Viennese subscription concerts. Both feature a ravishingly beautiful slow movement, with a gently pathetic set of variations in the B flat Concerto K456. In the G major K453, a piece that seems from the outset to be holding its breath, its opening phrase is left hanging in mid-air; it’s only in the closing bars that the melody is finally resolved, in a moment of uniquely Mozartian sensuousness. Jean-Efflam Bavouzet provides his own cadenzas for K453, but also offers Mozart’s – you can programme in whichever you prefer to hear. Bavouzet’s cadenzas sound a bit like jazzed up Ravel, and he leaves the one in the slow movement hanging on the brink of E flat – whereupon the winds come floating in in C major, to magical effect.

There’s splendid playing from both Bavouzet and the Manchester Camerata under Gábor Takacs-Nagy: a passionate account of the extraordinary moment in the finale of K456, where, in a passage set in a remote key, piano and orchestra proceed in different rhythms simultaneously; or the hushed atmosphere of the minor-mode variation in the last movement of K453. A pity, though, that the occasional reduction of the strings to a solo quartet becomes something of a mannerism. A beautiful account of the much earlier Divertimento K137 is a welcome bonus.

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Misha Donat