MOZART Piano Concertos Nos 20 & 21 (Bavouzet)
These miraculous works from the Lenten season of 1785 may be the two Mozart concertos most commonly paired on disc. Listeners who have heard and enjoyed the previous three volumes in this series (11/16, 10/17, 12/18), however, might have come to expect something a little special from these musicians. They won’t be disappointed, either.
Concertos Nos 20 and 21 represent the ultimate synthesis in Mozart’s mature style, with peaks of technique, inspiration and creative personality conspiring to create works of unprecedented individuality and expressive depth. They form an ideal pair, contrasting the majesty of trumpet-laden C major with the anguished Sturm und Drang of dark D minor. The playfulness of No 21’s outer movements encloses one of Mozart’s most sublime creations – the inimitable slow movement that once linked the work with a Swedish B movie. Bavouzet and the Manchester Camerata are ideally poised in the fast music, with the conversational interplay between piano and woodwinds displaying the naturalness that is an evident hallmark of this cycle. In performance the Andante is often either dragged out and overburdened with an ersatz ‘expression’ that it can’t bear, or trotted through in an effort to avoid doing just that. Here, Gábor Takács-Nagy sets the ideal tempo – a touch slower than Zacharias for Jan Lisiecki (DG, 9/12) and faster than Marriner for Yeol Eum Son (Onyx, 6/18), to take two recent ish recordings – while Bavouzet doesn’t so much sing the cantabile melody as croon it, delaying the down-beats like a nightclub singer and ornamenting liberally. It’s a highly personal take on this all-too-familiar piece, to be sure, and I love it.
The Don Giovanni Overture makes you catch your breath as it bursts in after the effervescent close of K467, making the Camerata sound like a far bigger band than their numbers suggest. The ground is thus prepared for the D minor of K466, played with the same acuity and charisma as the C major Concerto, even if the central Romance is sung straighter, without the lubricious liberties of the C major’s Andante.
This series of discs is shaping up to be a serious front-runner in a cycle of works that has never wanted for fine recordings. Cadenzas are by Beethoven (K466) and, less predictably, Friedrich Gulda (K467). For this concerto pairing, there are few recordings as fine.