Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 9 in E flat, K271 (Jeunehomme); Piano Concerto No. 18 in B flat, K486

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COMPOSERS: Mozart
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 9 in E flat, K271 (Jeunehomme); Piano Concerto No. 18 in B flat, K486
PERFORMER: Norwegian CO/Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 5 57803 2
It’s curious to think that the Coronation was once the most popular of all Mozart’s piano concertos. Its clear-cut melodies have an undeniably attractive freshness, but it can sound disappointingly unadventurous when set alongside its companions. It’s also Mozart’s most problematic concerto: not only did he not bother to write out the left-hand part at all in the passages where it was purely accompanimental, but the slow movement’s recurring melody obviously represents no more than the bare bones of what he must have played himself. Matthias Kirschnereit decorates the Larghetto’s melody to a certain extent (though perhaps not sufficiently to hold one’s interest), but for the rest he accepts the standard realisation of the left-hand part supplied in the posthumous first edition by Johann André. Others – notably András Schiff – have tried to improve on André’s accompaniment, which is particularly unidiomatic in the opening movement’s second subject. Kirschnereit plays stylishly throughout, and he gives a sparkling account of the rondo finale, but he’s not greatly helped by a rather run-of-the-mill contribution from the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra. The C major Concerto, K415, is particularly one-dimensional, and lacking in the expressive nuances that can lift the music off the page. Again, Schiff is preferable, finding greater depth in the finale’s Adagio episodes. On an altogether higher plane are the performances by Leif Ove Andsnes and the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra. Theirs is music-making that radiates enjoyment, with splendidly alert orchestral playing, and Andsnes (who makes discreet contributions to the tutti passages) revealing himself to be a Mozartian of unselfconscious eloquence. It’s possible to approach these wonderful works differently – Richard Goode and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (Nonesuch), for instance, dig deeper into the operatic tragedy of K271’s slow movement, though their tempo is slow for an Andantino – but you are unlikely to find more satisfying performances. Urgently recommended. Misha Donat

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