F X MOZART Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2 CLEMENTI Piano Concerto
For the third volume in Hyperion’s Classical Piano Concerto series Howard Shelley has swapped the Ulster Orchestra for that of St Gallen and exchanges the camp drama of Steibelt (Vol 2, 1/16) for something – dare I say it – more musically rewarding.
Franz Xaver Mozart was born just four months before the death of his father Wolfgang Amadeus – so no pressure there. Certainly, Mozart’s widow Constanze had high hopes for her son. He shared with his father a prodigious keyboard talent, and a wandering spirit which took him on concert tours all over Europe, for which, naturally, he needed concertos. He wrote the C major Piano Concerto when he was 18 and it possesses great charm. It begins almost insouciantly, and features some particularly striking writing for wind, not least the chromatic falling motif on the oboe just before the close of the opening movement, which gives a darker colouring to an otherwise exuberant C major. Shelley tucks into the solo part with almost nonchalant ease, alive to every colour change as Franz Xaver darts momentarily into minor keys. The variation-form second movement is based on a drooping theme which is introduced most effectively by strings. If the piano’s filigree elaborations tend to be decorative rather than profound, there’s again some very effective writing for wind, not least the bassoon, which takes the spotlight in the final variation, in which Franz Xaver surprises us at the last moment by a switch to the major. The delightfully capricious rondo finale is given with tremendous élan.
The Second Concerto dates from nine years later. While it still has the odd echo of Mozart père, it sounds distinctly Weberesque, not least in the use of clarinets. And the solo writing exploits the whole range of the keyboard, with Shelley finding a superb translucency even at the lowest register. He brings a real poignancy to the halting, minor-key slow movement, while the finale is brought to life with an unobtrusive felicity.
The disc ends with Clementi’s only surviving piano concerto, probably written in the late 1780s. The piano part bristles with passages in thirds and sixths, contrasting with quicksilver filigree, all of which Shelley dispatches fearlessly. If the piece seems to be built from more generic devices than those of Franz Xaver Mozart (not least the opening themes of the outer movements, both conventionally martial in tone) it’s performed with complete aplomb by Shelley and co. The central Adagio e cantabile con grand’ espressione is perhaps the most individual movement, musically speaking, with the piano’s improvisatory-sounding musing set against gentle commentary from the orchestra.
With a sympathetic recording and notes by Richard Wigmore that are, as ever, a pleasure to read, this is a compelling addition to Hyperion’s catalogue.