Mozart: Piano Concertos

Arthur Schoonderwoerd, Cristofori
69:57
ACC 24323
KV 271, 413, 414

Judging from the back cover of the booklet, this would seem to be the sixth in a series of the Mozart piano concertos played by the Dutch fortepianist Arthur Schoonderwoerd, who also directs the Besançon-based ensemble, Cristofori. He plays a copy of Anton Walter piano of 1782. The cycle seems to have attracted little critical attention, this being the first CD I have encountered.

Of the three concertos on the latest disc it can be claimed without resorting to hyperbole that KV 271, the Piano Concerto No 9 in E flat, is not only the first great Mozart piano concerto, but the first great piano concerto in history, a work therefore of huge significance. Composed at the start of 1777, it was written for Louise Victoire Jenamy, daughter of the famous ballet master Noverre, when she visited Salzburg. Mozart did the noted young pianist proud, evidently taking considerable pains to provide her with a work that in scale and ambition comfortably exceeds the modest proportions that formed the norm in the mid 1770s. Its very opening announces something dramatic and innovative, a single bar’s flourish answered by two bars from the soloist. The gesture is then repeated, the traditional opening ritornello thus swept away at a stroke. The Andantino, with sighing muted strings, is the first of many of Mozart’s central concerto movements that will breathe the spirit of Romanticism, while the exquisitely lovely slow minuet Mozart inserts into the final Rondeau is an idea – the interruption of a quick movement with a period of reflection – he will return to only once again in his piano concertos, in the finale of the C-major Concerto, KV503. The other concertos were composed for a series of subscription concerts Mozart gave in Vienna in the winter of 1782/3. Both are more modest works than KV 271, their slighter character underlined by the fact that they can be played by single strings, the parts for oboes, horns and (in the case of KV 413) bassoons being optional.

I have mixed feelings about the performances. On a level of practical choice it seems a little perverse legitimately to adopt single strings – employed throughout the series, I understand – but then also include the wind parts. The ‘orchestral’ playing is throughout of questionable quality, with too many examples of sour oboe tone, and poor string intonation and ensemble. Dynamics, too, are far from being observed with anything like the attention they should be. Listen, for example, to the opening of the central Larghetto of KV 413, marked sotto voce. Here the winds’ piano interjection in bar 2 hits the listener with all the force and subtlety of a sledgehammer. Yet these are not performances to write off entirely. Schoonderwoerd is a musical, fluent and often sensitive player, and he frequently achieves a sensitive rapport with his musicians, phrasing with point or affection. The minuet passage in KV 271 mentioned above is a good case in point, the playing here achieving an affecting delicacy and poise that is most engaging. Moreover the single string accompaniment, although not really working for the bigger-boned KV 271, does at times throw up some interesting perspectives on balance.

So, while these performances are never going to reach the status of mainstream recommendation, they are not without merit, though that merit is not boosted by the churchy, over-reverberant acoustic.

Brian Robins