Piano Concertos Nos 20-22; Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, K478; Fantasia in C minor, K475; Masonic Funeral Music in C minor, K477
Matthew Truscott (violin), Joel Hunter (viola), Frank-Michael Guthmann (cello); Mahler Chamber Orchestra/Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)
Sony Classical 19439742462 59:47 mins
In 1785, Mozart created masterpiece after masterpiece. Dramatic, witty, endlessly lyrical, harmonically adventurous, sensual and sometimes downright naughty, this is breathtaking music from a happy-go-lucky genius who couldn’t say no. It’s a great year for Andsnes and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra’s ongoing series.
That said, this recording is a mixed bag. Its highlights include a finely attentive account of the G minor Piano Quartet, showing vivid collegiality between the performers; Andsnes’s C minor Fantasy, perfectly balanced and full of dramatic contrast; and the Masonic Funeral Music, directed by Matthew Truscott, making a strong impression with its dark colours and character.
The concertos, though, are disappointing. It shouldn’t be possible for the E flat K482 to sound dull, or the soaring Andante of the C major K467 thin and dreary, let alone allowing the Don Giovanni-esque drama of the D minor to misfire with metronomic pace – you can almost hear the barlines plodding along. Desperately polite period phrasing verges on the dogmatic, interfering with the drama, sapping the long lines of their energy and scuppering rhythmic vitality and emotional expression.
Perhaps a conductor would have helped. Perhaps it doesn’t help that the recorded sound quality, pure and distant, is at the expense of warmth. Nevertheless, sometimes layers of tradition build up in musical performance over several decades, become distorted and need to be identified and stripped away. Maybe it’s time.