I have been listening over the past few months to several of the Mozart concertos performed by various artists. I recently was fortunate to hear this recording of Mozart's 19th and 27th piano concertos performed by pianist Richard Goode and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. This ensemble performs with grace, precision, and beauty, but without a conductor. The recording dates from 1996, but it wasn't released until 2000.
The two concertos on this CD are both scored for strings, flute, oboe,horn, and bassoon, but otherwise they make a good study in contrast. Mozart composed his concerto in F major, K. 459 in December, 1784 and performed it as a soloist on several occasions. This is a joyous, optimistic work full of movement. It fuses the galant elements of 18th century music with "learned" elements derived from earlier baroque counterpoint. In his 1948 study, "Mozart and his Piano Concertos", Cuthbert Girdlestone said of this concerto that "it sings [confidence and happiness] in "the highest degree and never more in his work shall we hear so whole-hearted a joy so ingenuously expressed." (p. 280)
Mozart's concerto in B-flat major, K. 595 was written in 1791, the last year of Mozart's life, following two years of great suffering and difficulty for the composer. It is the last of Mozart's piano concertos and, as does much of Mozart's last music, has a resigned, bittersweet, otherwordly quality. Again, to quote Girdlestone, "This concerto is the finest and fullest of those works to which we applied the perhaps unjust term 'wilting'....The intimate nature of its feeling makes almost chamber music of it and renders it unsuitable for performance in a large concert hall; its proper environment is a circle of lovers of music and of Mozart, gathered in the house of one of them." (p. 471) This is a work of quiet intimacy and reflection rather than brilliance.
Both works are beautifully played on this CD by Goode and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. The tempos are well taken, and the collaboration between soloist and ensemble is excellent. The wind parts, which are essential to the Mozart concertos, come through well.
The opening movement of the concerto in F Major, K 459, features a lively, rhythmic theme that dominates both the orchestral and the solo writing. Some listeners hear this music as a march and others hear it as a dance. (I think it is too light and flowing for a march.) Listen for the many ways in which the theme appears and for the interplay between the piano and the winds. The second movement is marked allegretto -- it is one of the few Mozart concertos without a slow movement. The movement is taken nicely on this recording with a lilt and a flow. This is a graceful movement without solemnity even though it includes a brief interlude in the minor key. There is a beautiful figure for the solo piano near the end of the movement. The third movement is a rondo which combines, as I suggested earlier, elements of the galant 18th century style with learned counterpoint. The movement opens with a long passage for orchestra and the piano spends much of the movement embroidering themes around the orchestra and orchestral soloists. Passages of harmonic writing alternate beautifully with passages of counterpoint in a manner that Mozart would later develop in the finale of the "Jupiter" symphony.
The opening movement of the B-flat major concerto, K. 595, opens with a bar of a rocking accompaniment figure followed by a bittersweet, resigned theme interupted at several points by the winds. There is a complimentary, sighing secondary theme. The highlight of this movement lies in its development section in which phrases from the opening of the movement are expanded upon and tossed back and forth among the piano and various components of the orchestra, again particularly the winds. The second movement is a larghetto, opened by the piano with a sad, melancholy, and resigned theme, again not taken overly slowly. The piano has a parlando -- a speaking -- part which is eloquent and reflective as it plays in combination with the flute and other wind soloists. The third movement is a rondo which utilizes a lilting theme that Mozart used in a song called "Yearning after spring") ("Sehnsucht nach dem Fruhlinge") that he wrote at the same time as this concerto. This movement continues the reflective character of the earlier movement with some outbursts of chordal passages in the piano.
This is an excellent CD for the listener wishing to explore two contrasting masterpieces among Mozart's piano concertos.