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Francesco Piemontesi, SCO & Andrew Manze - Mozart: Piano Concertos 19 & 27 - Gramophone

Francesco Piemontesi, Andrew Manze and the SCO return to the Usher Hall and to Mozart for a second disc in their series placing the ubiquitous (in this case the last piano concerto, K595 from the composer's final year) with the slightly more rarely performed (K459 from the end of 1784). Once again there is no shortage of the appropriate intimacy and interplay between instrumental groups, although it feels as if the microphones have moved closer a touch in the earlier work to highlight the conversation between piano and chattering woodwinds.

Tempos are all judiciously chosen but may in places feel a little careful. The finale of K595 comes in over half a minute behind Maria João Pires (with Abbado in 2011), while that of K459 is 40 seconds slower than Clara Haskil in 1955. What's lost in impishness, though, is gained in clarity, not only of line but also of expression, and in the kick that the music suddenly receives as Mozart's flippant opera buffa sound world is suddenly pushed aside by the headbanging counterpoint that strays in from his studies of Bach.

Piemontesi has no hesitation in ornamenting liberally - 'as if it were all too easy for him', as I wrote of Vol 1 (9/17). Is it a little too much? Perhaps only in that magical moment in the central Larghetto of K595, where the piano's statement of the theme, doubled only by first violins and flute, 'floats, serene and unearthly, into the final tutti' (HC Robbins Landon). Less, here, is certainly more.

In places it may seem a little cool. Just as you think so, though, some harmonic turn, some fingery challenge suddenly inspires Piemontesi and the inspiration in a flash becomes molten, the involvement absolute. He truly comes into his own in the cadenzas (echt Mozart in both concertos). Don't discard Pires (in K595) or Clara Haskil (in both concertos), among many other immovable classic recordings; but do give Piemontesi a listen. 

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Gramophone
01 October 2020