September 6, 2019
The Arts Fuse reviews Mozart Concertos

Classical Music CD Reviews: Two Refreshingly Different Takes On Mozart

By Susan Miron | AUGUST 28, 2019 

Two recordings serve up the music of Mozart in unusual packages.


Pianist Orli Shaham, whom I admired on Avner Dorman’s CD Letters from Gettysburg, delivers two ravishing, full-blooded Mozart concerti in a recording that I have come to love. Mozart Piano Concertos Nos. 17 in G Major, K. 453, and No. 24 in C Minor, K. 491 (Canary Classics) is a real beauty, from the performance of the superb St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, conducted by David Robertson (Shaham’s husband), to the clarity and musical responsiveness of the piano, which makes Mozart’s famed concerti sound like chamber music. Shaham’s cadenzas are elegant, her passage work shimmering, her sound and playing simply ravishing.

The choice of making use of large orchestration and a modern piano were hers. Shaham explains that “the traditional playing styles and instruments revived by historically informed performance are only one type of strategy for revealing what makes the music special.” In the CD’s fascinating notes, a conversation about Mozart among Shaham, Robertson, and historian Elaine Sisman, Shaham argues that “these two concerti are the only two Mozart wrote whose last movements consist of strict variations on a single theme… Mozart is showing his skill in two ways: he’s pushing the envelope of how much a composer can get out of a single idea, but also the envelope of what pianists could do technically … ”

Shaham has parallel careers as a respected broadcaster, music lecturer, and writer, along with being the frequent piano collaborator of her brother, violinist Gil Shaham. On this CD she performs Mozart, and talks about composer with educative aplomb: “In these concertos, Mozart wants to get from a musical point A to a musical point B, and variation is his ticket to ride…. For Mozart, changes (or variations) aren’t just a means to a musical end. He starts with a musical theme and, through a progressive series of fairly small changes, moves it into something that feels quite new…. It’s hard to find moments in these concertos in which a phrase repeats exactly as it was. We can think of this as a play-by-play view of what’s happening in Mozart’s musical brain, trying out different ideas and versions, punning and free-associating melodically.”

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