With a mountain of PR preceding his debut album, the teenage phenom Jan Lisiecki could have set himself up for a fall - to undertake two of Mozart's greatest keyboard masterpieces is a potentially reckless choice. His British counterpart, Benjamin Grosvenor, chose much flashier material for his very successful debut. But one of Lisiecki's strengths is his unusually mature phrasing, which makes Mozart a nice choice, since experienced listeners - and other pianists - know who difficult Mozart actually is. (I hope he gets a chance to show off hi other strength, the phenomenal technique that was shown off in a recent Santa Fe recital of the complete Chopin Etudes.)
I'm sorry that the pianist and his conductor, Christian Zacharias, take such a tame view of the opening movement of the D minor Concerto K. 466, since they miss its kinship to the turbulent world of Don Giovanni. In the wake of period influence, it has become all too common to miniaturize Mozart as insurance that he doesn't sound romantic, but this movement is tasteful to a fault. The Romanze is poised and nicely phrased, the finale sprightly, if a bit cautious for Allegro assai. Some pianists cut loose when they get to the two Beethoven cadenzas in the outer movements, but Lisiecki prefers to remain chastely Mozartean. The recorded sound is very good, the piano a superb instrument, and the playing of the great Bavarian Radio SO as fine as one would expect. My sense of letdown could be traceable to Zacharias's routine conducting.
The conducting is just as bland in the C Major Concerto K. 467 - Lisiecki could have done just as well from the keyboard waving his hand every once in a while. Although these two concertos evoke two different sides of Mozart's temperament, here they sound very much the same, as does Lisiecki's tasteful playing. He gives us his own cadenza for the first movement and Badura-Skoda's in the finale, a nice out-of-the-way touch.
Given he outrageous one-star review that preceded me and Lsiecki's appealing persona and natural musicianship, I wanted to be enthusiastic. Let's say that this is a nice debut but one that doesn't give a balanced picture of a young pianist who has inspired so much excitement.