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Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos 9 & 18

Kristian Bezuidenhout (piano); Freiburger Barockorchester (Harmonia Mundi)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Piano Concerto No. 9 in E flat, K271 ‘Jeunehomme’; Piano Concerto No. 18 in B flat, K456
Kristian Bezuidenhout (piano); Freiburger Barockorchester
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902332   62:26 mins

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Mozart’s E flat Piano Concerto K271 is, as usual, subtitled ‘Jeunehomme’ (supposedly ‘Young Man’). It’s been thoroughly proven, though, that this moniker is a misinterpretation of ‘Jenamy’ – the surname of the young female pianist for whom it was written. Yet this music has a youthful, emotionally open quality, with bubbly outer movements, plenty of soulful sorrow in the centre and some structurally daring moments, such as having the soloist enter during the first theme’s earliest statement. The B flat Concerto K456 is no less a joy, holding irresistible verve and presenting near-operatic ensemble writing for the woodwind.

Continuing his survey of the Mozart concertos with his regular collaborators, the Freiburger Barockorchester, Kristian Bezuidenhout, playing a modern copy of a Walter fortepiano of 1805 and directing from the keyboard, offers a marvellously expressive account. He creates an effortlessly flexible canvas that has the space to breathe, while drawing out the music’s often conversational character with warmth, humour and grace. He provides his own decorous cadenza for K456, besides idiomatic embellishments to the solos.

The fortepiano balances effortlessly with the period instruments, which are expertly wielded. Nevertheless, the violin tone is typically razor-thin, with the result that the uppermost line of melody often vanishes into the same general level as the ensemble’s inner voices – which, perhaps paradoxically, can sometimes muddy the texture rather than clarifying it. Still, it’s a relatively small complaint for what’s otherwise a recording that can brighten the darkest of days.

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Jessica Duchen