October 10, 2019
MusicWeb International Review: Mozart Piano Concertos

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 17 in G, K453 (1784) [30:01]
Piano Concerto No.24 in C minor, K491 (1786) [29:04]
Orli Shaham (piano)
St Louis Symphony Orchestra/David Robertson
rec. 2017/18, Powell Hall, St Louis, Missouri

Coupling two such theatrical concertos as these, and ones that sport theme and variations in their finales, makes good sense. It also marks the first commercial recording in 16 years for the St Louis Symphony under David Robertson, then nearing the end of his 13-year stint as music director. Who better to accompany, then, than his wife, Orli Shaham playing on a New York Steinway.

Clearly there was perceptive microphone placements in Powell Hall, as the balances are finely judged, and things emerge naturally and not spotlit. In the Concerto in G the opening orchestral introduction is genially characterised and there is a chamber-like colloquium between soloist and wind principals. The violins sound divided too, and the consequent performance marries elegance, precision in voicings and secure ensemble. Similarly, there’s a touching intimacy in the slow movement and Shaham’s cadenza here has a quality of veiled melancholy. Cannily judged, the variations in the finale are both engaging and full of bubbling wit.

The companion concerto in C minor is the moodier and more introspective work but it too receives a buoyant and winning reading. The horns make their presence felt and the St Louis strings sound lithe but full toned and mercifully free of period desiccation. To enliven the first movement Shaham plays the Saint-Saëns cadenza with fiery intensity and commanding bravura – Robert Casadesus did the same in his old recording with Szell. The slow movement is fluency itself, in a clarity-conscious landscape, and the finale reprises the virtues, of line, definition and characterisation, that imbued the G major work.

Working hand in glove ensures a particularly simpatico reading of this brace of concertos. The booklet is a symposium between Shaham, Robertson and writer and academic Elaine Sisman that goes into some interesting musical detail about the works and is well worth reading. And as for this disc – it’s well worth hearing.

Jonathan Woolf

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