WORKS: Piano Concerto in C, K415; Piano Concerto in C minor, K491
PERFORMER: London Mozart Players/Howard Shelley (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9326 DDD
From the sinister syncopations announcing K466, to the despairingly stoical eight-variation finale of K491, Mozart’s only minor-key concertos journey into the abyss, and back again. Howard Shelley’s model account of the C minor work is never self-regarding, and is beautifully supported by the London Mozart Players. The epistolary consolation of the Larghetto and austere complexity of the finale both evince thoroughgoing, reliable musicianship from an artist deserving fuller attention in this repertoire. Volume 5 of Shelley’s cycle opens with a debonair performance of the C major Concerto, K415. Stefan Vladar tackles the smouldering, tragic heroics of K466 with bravura, aplomb and convincing gravity. Substitution of Beethoven’s cadenzas with his own, and Brendel’s in the finale, begs questions perhaps, but Vladar’s intrepid, unflinching and magnetic pianism is not easily surpassed. He also impresses in the majestic ‘big’ C major Concerto, K503, in a demonstration-quality recording.
The Coronation Concerto, No. 26 in D, K537, that most retrogressive and problematic work of the series, debated as much for its apparent conventionality as for Mozart’s tantalising omission of the left-hand part throughout much of the manuscript, is convincingly assayed by András Schiff, in the last instalment of his acclaimed Decca cycle. Not that the enigma has been finally solved, since any reconstruction remains conjectural, though Schiff’s eminently plausible realisation does cast new light. The coupling, a distinguished account of the E flat Quintet, K452, finds Schiff in studiously eloquent form, his playing a source of constant insight and amazement.
A word of caution, though, regarding Daniel Barenboim’s live recordings of K456, K459, and the Rondo in D, K382. The Berlin audience makes itself felt repeatedly, and a clumsy attempt to remove applause (this is a live event, so why not preserve it?) mars the final chord of the Rondo, doubly regrettable given the scintillating brilliance of the playing. Barenboim is a consistently lucid, spontaneous and revealing Mozartian, but the real discovery here is Stefan Vladar – definitely a Mozart player to watch – while Howard Shelley’s Chandos series gains in stature with each successive release.