Mozart: Piano Concertos, Vol. 8 / Christian Zacharias, Lausanne Chamber Orchestra
Both concertos on this volume are from 1786: Mozart composed KV 491 in C minor in great haste on 24 March while he was working on the opera Figaro, and KV 503 in C major followed on 4 December while he was writing the Prague Symphony. Christian Zacharias and his Lausanne Chamber Orchestra have allowed themselves considerably more time – and with splendid results. This complete recording already promises to claim one of the top places on the international charts; after all, Zacharias again and again effortlessly succeeds in conveying his inimitable interpretive culture to the orchestra.
R E V I E W:
MOZART Piano Concertos: No. 24; No. 25 • Christian Zacharias (pn, cond); Lausanne CO • MDG GOLD 940 1737 (SACD: 61:22)
Some of Mozart’s piano concertos have been popular ever since they were first written. Indeed the next generation of composers following Mozart held them (that is especially the late concertos, and within this group especially the minor-keyed ones) in high esteem along with the last three of Beethoven’s. Mendelssohn is known to have loved the D-Minor Concerto, playing it often and including his own improvised cadenzas during performances. In the current recording, Christian Zacharias, a German pianist who has won numerous prizes—including first in the Geneva, the Van Cliburn, and the Ravel competitions in the early to mid 1970s—has almost completed the monumental task of recording all of Mozart’s concertos; if all of the other releases in this series have been as revealing as this one, then we are in store for one of the finer overall sets of these compositions.
Though the two concertos on the current recording often get paired for obvious reasons of numbering alone, Zacharias plays them as though they were two completely different species in a related genre. In his hands the C-Minor Concerto, K 491, sounds more like an orchestrated chamber work, one in which each orchestral part is balanced with both the piano and with the other instruments of the orchestra. The pianist maintains a light touch here, allowing the other instruments of the orchestra to take the fore when necessary; the piano is not always the most important instrument in the ensemble and Zacharias is sensitive to this. The winds, for example, especially notable in this concerto, do not merely accompany the strings or the piano adding some splashes of color here and there; in this reading they are an integral part of the whole structure of the work. Even the most overtly soloist-oriented section in the entire composition is infused with a sense of chamber music. The first-movement cadenza, normally used as a vehicle for the pianist’s virtuosity, is here used as a section of exploration and reminiscence by both the pianist and the orchestra—an oddity for sure, but a successful one. The later C-Major Concerto, K 503, is treated far differently from its predecessor. Though the pianist is just as sensitive here to his given role at any time, this concerto is seen symphonically—it is a big-boned concerto and the pianist is not afraid to highlight the boisterousness and joyfulness of this concerto through its many playful and virtuosic passages; its seeming simplicities are its delights. In addition to Zacharias’s extraordinary playing and fine conducting, much of the credit must go to his ensemble of choice: the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra. The members of the orchestra do not merely play along with their soloist, they read the nuances of the soloist and comment accordingly. This small orchestra proves to be a very fine Mozart ensemble.
This is overall exquisite playing, expressive yet never over-romanticized, always period-informed yet never inhibited by that awareness. In addition to the brilliant performances, the sound of the recording must also be commented upon: It is superb. The multichannel recording adds a spaciousness, a depth to the sound that makes one feel, when one closes one’s eyes, that one is literally in the concert hall listening in on this intimate music-making. If one is looking for a new Mozart concerto cycle this would be it for me. If all of the previous releases are as fine as this one, this would indeed set a new standard. In other words, get it and enjoy!
FANFARE: Scott Noriega
Catalog Number: 9401737-6
Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Conductor: Christian Zacharias
Orchestra/Ensemble: Lausanne Chamber Orchestra
Performer: Christian Zacharias