Wednesday, August 29, 2018

A glorious upsetting of the balance

Mozart: Piano Concertos K. 414 & 271

I've always loved Karl Barth's interpretation of Mozart's music. He rejected the view of Mozart's music as light and untroubled, always happy, which more or less prevailed until the middle of the twentieth century. "What he translated into music,” he wrote, "was real life in all its discord." This is about more than music criticism, of course; it's a perfect example of Barth's theology of "the shadow-side of Creation". Though Mozart has presented both the light and the darkness, he rejected, according to Barth, a simple even symmetry between the two. "What occurs in Mozart is rather a glorious upsetting of the balance, a turning in which the light rises and the shadows fall, though without disappearing, in which joy overtakes sorrow without extinguishing it, in which the Yea rings louder than the ever-present Nay." An early and quite perfect expression of the light overwhelming the shadows is the A major Piano Concerto K. 414, written in 1782. I love the two A major concertos - Mozart wrote another, K. 488, in 1786 - more than all the rest. I hear in them Mozart's loudest ringing of the Yea.

In a live recording from the Teatro Carlo Felice, Genoa's opera house, pianist Andrea Bacchetti and conductor Fabio Luisi present a most impressive, and fetching, version of K. 414. Luisi's operatic experience - I know him best for his recent recordings of Berg's Wozzeck and Meyerbeer's Margherita D'Anjou - allows him to focus more clearly on the drama underlying Mozart's "glorious upsetting of the balance", which is after all what works like The Marriage of Figaro and Cosi Fan Tutte are all about. Andrea Bacchetti is marvellous for his part as the protagonist working with and against the musicians of the Orchestra del Teatro Carlo Felice, as if all were on-stage in an opera.

I was less pleased with the other concerto on the disc, K. 271 from 1777. It is, of course, a fine work, miles ahead of any keyboard concerto written after Bach and unchallenged until Mozart himself started his amazing run with K. 413-15 five years later. But Bacchetti and Luisi are both oddly tentative with their opening, and the movement never takes off. Everything is reset, though, for the lovely slow movement, and the finale zips along nicely, skirting the banalities that less accomplished musicians fall into in certain of Mozart's rondos. Even with one less accomplished movement this is outstanding Mozart, and a worthwhile purchase

This album will be released on October 5, 2018.

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