MOZART Piano Concertos Nos 23 & 27 (Pressler)
I gather that Kimbo Ishii sets a sedate tempo for K488’s opening ritornello to accommodate Menahem Pressler’s 94 year-old hands. Yet when Pressler enters, one immediately takes notice. Over the past few years, this great artist’s dynamic range has narrowed, and his scale passages now require more effort. Yet Pressler still illuminates whatever he touches and compels you take pay attention. Listen, for example, to the harmonic pointing and sense of direction of his left hand. Notice the operatic orientation and disarming freedom Pressler brings to the second subject; every repeated note has a different colour. As the development unfolds, the Magdeburg Philharmonic’s musicians become increasingly responsive to Pressler’s gentle yet intensely expressive rubatos. Pressler’s diminuendos and tiny tenutos at phrase ends throughout the celebrated slow movement leave you hanging on every note, although I wish that Ishii would have brought out more of the orchestral texture’s counterlines, such as the wonderful bassoon passage at around 1'07". However, it is hard to get past the slow, sluggish and enervated Allegro assai.
A similarly slow and intimately scaled K595 yields more consistent and focused results. Pressler achieves a riveting conversational repartee between both hands in the first movement’s development and infuses the finale’s main theme’s nursery rhyme-like nature with a crispness and backbone that younger pianists often flatten out. If the central Larghetto emerges more as a largo, Pressler’s hypnotic legato, concentration and sustaining power nevertheless impress.
So do the encores. To be certain, he over-pedals the central Mazurka section of Chopin’s C sharp minor Nocturne (the early piece that often pops up as an encore), yet the florid twists and turns of the A minor Mazurka, Op 17 No 4, unfold at leisure with the kind of imagination and tonal magic that remind me of the aged Horowitz in the same work. And Pressler’s curvaceous Debussy encore leads me to suspect that ‘La fille aux cheveux de lin’ is not all that innocent!