The combination of string quartet and solo piano, strikingly enhances the intricacies of Mozart's string writing and encourages immediate interaction among the five musicians. Gottlieb Wallisch and the Piatti Quartet performed this repertoire to packed audiences at various venues and festivals across the UK in the summer and autumn of 2011.
'Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 12, 13 & 14, The Chamber Version' is a brilliant debut from the young quartet and a welcome addition to Gottlieb's already impressive Mozart discography.
The prize for poise, blended tone and general lustre was ultimately won by the Piatti Quartet.' The Times
‘Wallisch's readings contain many attractive qualities: immaculately clean fingerwork, fine phrase-characterisation and sense of balance.' BBC Music
‘The Piatti Quartet's outstanding musical narration held our audience from start to finish.' Newbury Festival 2012
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Concertos K. 414, K. 415 and K. 449 (Version for piano and string quartet)
Among the complete works of Mozart, which are unique in their inexplicable wealth, diversity and ingenuity, the operas and concertos stand out as two monoliths. Mozart's pioneering spirit is undeniably expressed through various musical forms, such as the piano quartet, the sinfonia concertante and the string quintets. Yet the most revolutionary innovation is manifested in his operas by psychological design of the personage and the development of the piano concerto from the pure ‘divertissement' of the mid-18th century towards a poignant and diverse musical form. He was the first to fill this form with musical content of gripping force and drama, while remaining movingly subtle and pure. His early experience as a travelling virtuoso performing all across Europe and his familiarity with the opera life in the major cities certainly played an instrumental part in this considerable development.
It has often been expressed that Mozart's piano concertos therefore resemble instrumental operas; this comparison serves as a welcome source of inspiration for musicians to elicit enigmatic, surprising and rhetorical elements from this music. Especially in the ‘great' piano concertos by Mozart (K. 466, 467, 482, 488, 491 and 503 come to mind), this opera proximity becomes apparent through abrupt changes of mood, persistent Major-minor conflicts and refined dialogue with the woodwinds. Mozart's tightening of the dynamic contrasts between soloist and orchestra, and the expansion of the tonal range allow his piano concertos to be experienced as immediate and exciting, creating almost physically tangible pieces of music.
En route to the great piano concertos of the years 1784-1787 there exists a trilogy of fascinating and popular works: the Concerti in F Major, K. 413, A Major, K. 414 and C Major, K. 415, all of which were completed in 1783. Mozart composed them for himself to be performed as part of his subscription concerts in Vienna. He describes the pieces in a letter to his father as follows: ‘These concertos are a happy medium between being too easy and too difficult; they are very brilliant, pleasant to the ear, and natural, without being vapid. There are particular passages from which connoisseurs alone can derive satisfaction, but still the less learned cannot, I believe, fail to be pleased, even without knowing why. [...] to gain applause, one must write things so inane that they might be played on barrel-organs, or so unintelligible that no rational being can comprehend them, though on that very account they are likely to please.'
In order to appeal to a wider audience and attract the attention of a variety of publishers, Mozart envisioned a flexible orchestration for these concertos: one with full orchestra and another with the accompaniment of a string quartet. This rarely-heard ‘chamber version' strikingly enhances the intricacies of the string writing and encourages immediate interaction among the five musicians. Despite the lack of a wind section, the character of each individual concerto is vividly expressed.
The Concerto in A Major, K. 414 impresses with its lyricism and rich melodic texture, especially in the first movement: the ritornello presents four different themes, the solo-piano elaborates with the addition of two more. Particularly the transitions between the individual parts are of expert design; a wonderful balance carries the musical progression without ever depending on dramatic effects. In the second movement, a solemn ‘Andante', Mozart emulates his great idol Johann Christian Bach, who had died the year before. As if paying a personal homage, he takes the first four bars of an overture that Bach had composed in 1763 for Baldassare Galuppi's opera La Calamità dei Cuori and respectfully adapts them for his main theme. Mozart had originally envisioned the ‘Rondo' in A Major, K. 386 for the finale of this concerto, but this posthumously published piece had to give way to a more compact final
movement. Its playful main theme exemplifies how Mozart was able to write catchy and easily understandable themes, as he had alluded to in his letter. Only the central part of the movement contains flickering moments of operatic drama, the rest is pure pleasure of the highest order.
The Concerto in C Major, K. 415 presents itself incomparably more orchestral, grand and virtuoso. The orchestral opening of the first movement is coloured in a military tone with a broader scope than the previous concerto, the solo sections are sharply distinguished. Mozart gives the soloist plenty of room to show proof of his dexterity. Of remarkable appeal is the switching between Major and minor in the vast second theme played by the piano. A brief theatrical effect is exercised by a recurring rocket-like unison rise, appearing four times in each final section.
Mozart contrasts the opulent opening movement with an unpretentious romance in F Major in which almost endlessly floating cantilenas resound with class and calm. The spaciousness of the piano cadenza surprises the listener, Mozart's improvisational gift seems to be overflowing and infinite. The finale of the concerto is formally unique and unconventional despite its logic and craftsmanship. Its innocent rondo theme is struggling to assert itself during the course of the movement, especially since two suddenly occurring C minor adagio sections have a silencing effect. Mozart had originally outlined the C minor theme for the slow movement of the concerto but opted for the lighter F Major in its place. He saved the C minor inserts to create dramatic scene changes in the finale. After the last appearance of the rondo theme, the music seems to be running away, to scatter into the winds; the concerto ends in pianissimo, and nothing remains of the majestic opening C Major celebration.
The following Concerto in E-flat major, K. 449 is the first of a series of no less than six piano concertos that Mozart composed in 1784, an extremely successful year for him. Mozart had mastered his livelihood as a freelance artist and established his reputation as composer, performer and teacher in Vienna. His newfound confidence as a composer became apparent in his newly created Catalogue of all my Works from the same year, with the E-flat Major Concerto noted down as the first entry on 9th February 1784. This concerto can also alternatively be performed ‘a quattro' (without oboes and horns). And yet it already marks a distinct departure from the concertos of the year 1783, primarily because of the vast diversity of dramatically changing themes and nuances in the first movement (marked ‘Allegro vivace', an uncommon tempo for Mozart), but also through a rather irregular musical flow that challenges the soloist to provide balance and continuity. The intimate and romance-like ‘Andantino' offers exquisite harmonic surprises, Mozart ventures far away from the home key of B-flat, grazes A-flat Major, E-flat minor and D-flat Major and only via B minor he manages to find his way back to the original key. The last movement, inscribed ‘Allegro ma non troppo', is overall a strictly contrapuntal finale that comes along with wit, subtlety and ease. Yet these moods are clouded twice: first by a fiery C minor couplet in the middle of the movement, and later on by a mysterious drifting to D-flat minor, just before a rapid 6/8 stretta conjures up a liberating climax.
© Gottlieb Wallisch, 2013
(English translation: Gero Mertens)