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Hyperion Records

CDA67840 - Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos 6, 8 & 9
Photo of Angela Hewitt by Bernd Eberle.
CDA67840
Recording details: December 2010
Das Kulturzentrum Grand Hotel, Dobbiaco, Italy
Produced by Ludger Böckenhoff
Engineered by Stephan Reh
Release date: October 2011
Total duration: 75 minutes 16 seconds

CLASSIC FM CD OF THE WEEK
INTERNATIONAL PIANO CHOICE

'It's easy to be captivated. Concertmaster Carlo Fabiano doesn't simply lead his forces mechanically; he gives meaning and expressive weight to the orchestration, Angela Hewitt the experience of valuable thought and feeling … [K271, Presto] In Hewitt's hands no artless dance; instead, something profound, as you'd expect of her, and get' (Gramophone)

'Judging from this first example, it's going to be a journey as revelatory as her exploration of all the major keyboard works of Bach. Hewitt is also a violinist and so brings elegant yet practical intuition to her direction; much of her keyboard articulation, for instance, imitates string-bowing. She is joined in this exciting new endeavour by the fleet-footed Orchestra da Camera di Mantova, who share her attention to stylistic detail. It's going to be a thrilling ride' (The Observer)

'Hewitt directs the performances from the keyboard; with the piano well forward of the orchestra in the sound picture, her playing is typically crisp … its attention to detail is immaculate. She contributes her own detailed sleeve notes, full of pertinent historical footnotes' (The Guardian)

'Hewitt is a spry Mozartian, and she infuses the players of the Orchestra da Camera di Mantova with lively spirit to match. Her playing is effortlessly nimble … her phrasing is actually finely balanced in ways that preserve the music from the threat of sounding like patter. And the sense of give-and-take between soloist and orchestra is first-rate' (The Irish Times)

'Some magical Mozart here from Angela Hewitt, who directs the Orchestra da Camera di Mantova with aplomb, zest, and most of all, style' (International Piano)

Piano Concertos Nos 6, 8 & 9
Allegro aperto  [6'54]
Rondeau: Allegro  [7'04]
Allegro aperto  [7'38]
Andante  [7'29]
Allegro  [10'32]
Andantino  [11'38]
Rondeau: Presto  [10'37]

The phenomenal Angela Hewitt embarks upon another Hyperion journey, this time through the piano concertos of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

The twenty-seven concertos for piano and orchestra contain some of the composer’s greatest achievements. Concertos Nos 6 and 8, two of the young Mozart’s earliest attempts at the genre, display a perfection of form and an elegant purity. Concerto No 9, the ‘Jeunehomme’, remarkably written in 1777 when Mozart was 21, is considered to be the composer’s first great masterpiece. The result of this creative outburst was a monument of musical originality and inventive orchestration. As the American critic Michael Steinberg aptly put it, in this concerto ‘Mozart, so to speak, became Mozart’.

In these interpretations Angela Hewitt displays her characteristic elegance and innate musicality. She is supported by the impeccably refined playing of the Orchestra da Camera di Mantova and the disc includes a personal and illuminating note by the pianist.


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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The accounts we have of the earliest years of the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart come not from sources of the time but rather from memoirs of his sister Nannerl, written down in 1792, the year following her brother’s death. Other reminiscences come from Johann Andreas Schachtner, a court trumpeter in Salzburg and the librettist for Mozart’s unfinished opera Zaide. He swears to the truth of an incident that happened when Mozart was four years old, and wrote to Nannerl:

I once went back to the house with your honoured father, after Thursday service, when we found the four-year-old Wolfgang busy with his pen. Papa: ‘What are you writing?’ Wolfgang: ‘A keyboard concerto, the first part is nearly finished.’ Papa: ‘Show me.’ Wolfgang: ‘It’s not ready yet.’ Papa: ‘Show me, it’s sure to be interesting.’ His father took it from him and showed me a smudge of notes, most of which were written over ink blots which he had rubbed out … At first we laughed at such an obvious gallimaufry, but then your father began to observe the most important matter, the notes and their composition; he stared long at the sheet, and then tears, tears of joy and wonder, fell from his eyes. Look, Herr Schachtner, he said, see how correctly and properly it is written, only it can’t be used, for it is so very difficult that no one could play it. Then Wolfgangerl said: ‘That’s why it’s a concerto, you must practise for a long time to get it right.’

Whether or not this charming story is true, the last line is certainly prophetic, as Mozart never spared the soloist in his great keyboard concertos—a genre he took and made completely his own, leading the way for all future composers.

His first completed attempts were four ‘pasticcio’ concertos (so-called by the Mozarts themselves), written when the boy was eleven years old (the same year in which he wrote his first opera, Apollo et Hyacinthus K38). Pastiches because they were almost all made up from sonata movements of other composers, including Raupach, Honauer, Schobert, Eckard, and C P E Bach. Leopold Mozart wanted to instruct his son in concerto composition, and no doubt also needed something for him to perform with orchestra. The manuscripts are mostly in Leopold’s hand, and the solo keyboard part is more or less the original solo composition, but the orchestral tuttis and accompaniments are no doubt the work of the young student and prodigy.

There is then a tremendous leap forward to his early ‘original’ concertos. For two-and-a-half years, from March 1775 to September 1777, the Mozart family for once remained together in Salzburg. It was the last time such a thing would happen. The endless touring came to a temporary halt even if Leopold was desperate to find employment for his son. Wolfgang felt stifled in Salzburg and longed to get away. In the meantime, however, he concentrated on composing instrumental music—his violin concertos, divertimenti, the ‘Haffner’ Serenade, and four piano concertos: the three on this recording and the one for three pianos, K242.

When we refer to ‘piano’ concertos we must remember that most people in those days did not own a fortepiano, but rather a harpsichord, and in Salzburg in 1776 there were reportedly no fortepianos at all. So it was certainly on the harpsichord that Wolfgang, and also Nannerl, gave the first performances of his Concerto in B flat major, K238. It would have been the perfect vehicle for showing off the talents of the young players while providing entertainment for the public who attended concerts at court and in salons during carnival and Lent. Containing nothing too demanding on the listener, it nevertheless is completely captivating. I admit to having once considered the early concertos not very interesting, but having now taken this piece into my repertoire I have changed my mind completely.

Scored for keyboard, strings, two oboes and two horns, the first movement is marked Allegro aperto, an adjective that the young Mozart also used in various concertos for violin, flute and oboe. Literally translating as ‘open’ or ‘frank’, we are not sure of the exact meaning of this indication, but surely it denotes radiance and gaiety. There are no undercurrents, nothing ambiguous. In the middle section we do encounter some swirling arpeggios and broken octaves in minor mode, accompanied by plaintive intervals on the oboe, but the episode doesn’t last long. A light though rapid touch on the keyboard is necessary for the proper execution of this music and is not so easy to produce on the modern piano. Although Mozart left a twelve-bar cadenza, it is rather meagre to say the least, so I have written my own.

In the slow movement (Andante un poco adagio) the two oboes are replaced by two flutes to give it a sweeter, more gentle character. The music is simple, varied slightly on its return in a different key; yet I find in it a quality that seems to be the germ for the famous Andante of his C major Piano Concerto, K467, which he wrote some nine years later. There are obvious similarities: the use of a triplet accompaniment, muted strings, and a pizzicato bass. Already we get a glimpse at what became one of his strongest characteristics: the ability to switch between minor and major in a flash, providing a marvellous effect of chiaroscuro.

The Rondeau finale is pure dance music, with elegant rhythmic gestures from both orchestra and soloist. The flutes are dispensed with and the oboes return, but the real interest here is given to the horns, who have a chance to shine. It reminds me of something Mozart apparently said to his sister in 1764 at eight years of age. They were in London and their father was gravely ill and needed silence in the house. Unable thus to play the clavier, Wolfgang sat about composing his first symphony, and as he went along he told Nannerl to remind him ‘to give the horns something worthwhile to do’. Their joyful contributions add a lot of character to this finale. So does the middle section in G minor which is the one really virtuoso page of the concerto, requiring some very nimble Baroque-style fingerwork. The repeated broken octaves in the right hand remind me of François Couperin’s harpsichord piece Le Réveil-matin (‘The alarm clock’). The short cadenza in this case is Mozart’s own, although the Eingänge (brief cadenzas where the music stops on a pause) must be improvised by the performer. Something in the nature of this rondo theme prompted me to take it slightly under tempo for its final statement by the solo piano, thus giving time to ornament it more fully, before the orchestra regains the momentum. The end is unassuming, giving the last smile to the oboe.

Three months later, in April 1776, Mozart returned to the genre and composed the Concerto in C major, K246. This time it was for someone other than himself—the Countess Antonie von Lützow, then twenty-six years old. She was the wife of the commander of the Hohensalzburg fortress overlooking the town, but more importantly the niece of Prince-Archbishop Colloredo (the ruler of Salzburg and Mozart’s employer with whom he was later to fall out). Her brother, Count Czernin, was an aspiring violinist and it is possible that some of Mozart’s violin concertos were written for him.

The Countess must have been more than a dilettante, judging from the piece Mozart composed for her. Even if it is less inventive and demanding than K238, it still requires a fluid technique and good musicianship (a few years later Mozart heard Abbé Vogler make a dog’s breakfast of the piece and wrote very amusingly to his father about it). With Mozart the key of C major often resulted in some march-like themes (we think of his concertos K467 and K503), and this is an early example. Much of the attractiveness of the first movement, again marked Allegro aperto, is found in an expressive, ascending subject not initially introduced in the orchestral tutti, but by the piano in bar 57. The left hand has an accompanying role throughout, leaving the right hand to do most of the talking. The second movement, Andante, has been treated unfairly by some musicologists (Girdlestone talks of the piano’s ‘inexpressive meanderings’). I find the middle section, in which the piano sings over a broken-chord accompaniment in the strings, has a beauty that is fragile and very touching.

As in the B flat major concerto, we have a dance for the closing Rondeau. How is it that music that at first glance appears very naïve turns out to be so immensely clever and genial? The theme, in the tempo of a minuet, could not be more civilized and polite. The gestures introduced in bar 39 are of a courtly elegance. Then comes a theme consisting solely of broken chords and rising thirds, with the oboes and horns adding extra colour to the fanfare. There could be nothing simpler, yet it is totally inspired. This is all well contrasted by the much more anxious middle section in A minor with its touches of swirling Baroque counterpoint (to which it seems entirely appropriate to add some ornamentation). Each time the rondo theme re-appears, Mozart ornaments it a bit more, also decreasing the note values in the left hand from crotchets to quavers to triplets. The orchestra follows suit at the end, adding its own ornamented version to bring this concerto to a close.

Mozart left three sets of cadenzas for the first two movements of this concerto: the first are very simple, with just a few flourishes, perhaps for the Countess to play. The second set is slightly more adventurous and could well have been intended for his sister and pupils. Several years later Mozart wrote a third set which are more like the cadenzas in his later concertos. These are the ones I have included in this recording.

Almost exactly one hundred years ago, in a biography of Mozart written by Théodor Wyzewa and Georges de Saint-Foix, the name of ‘Mademoiselle Jeunehomme’ began to appear in connection with the Concerto in E flat major, K271. Mozart himself had never written of anyone by that name, but rather described the concerto, after he had composed it in January 1777, as ‘das für die jenomy’ (the one for the Jenomy). His father Leopold also made a reference to ‘Madame genomai’. Presumably those biographers thought Mozart had for some reason got her name wrong, and subsequently one scholar after the next simply copied them and the nickname ‘Jeunehomme’ was given to the concerto. As late as 1999 one biographer accused Mozart of pronouncing French so badly that he couldn’t even spell correctly.

In 2003 somebody finally decided to research this a bit more. The Viennese musicologist Michael Lorenz discovered the mysterious woman’s identity. Mozart hadn’t been all that wrong: her name was in fact Victoire Jenamy (1749–1812). Her father was the dancer and choreographer Jean-Georges Noverre (1727–1810) who was called by no less than David Garrick ‘the Shakespeare of the Dance’. None of his 150 ballets survive, but his book Lettres sur la danse does. It was he who brought drama into ballet, taking it away from its courtly origins and creating the ‘ballet d’action’ which told of human emotions. Some of this must have rubbed off on his daughter, whose performance of a piano concerto in Vienna in 1773 was executed, according to a local newspaper, ‘with much artistry and ease’. Mozart dined with Noverre in Vienna in 1773, this much we know. His daughter could easily have been present. The year after the Concerto K271 was written, Noverre was back in Paris as ballet master, and when Mozart and his mother arrived there, he wrote to his father that he had an open invitation to dine at Noverre’s home, and that Mme Jenamy was there. Mozart also composed some of the music for his ballet Les petits riens. It is amazing that for almost a hundred years nobody made this connection.

I have perhaps told more about Madame Jenamy’s father than is called for, but for a reason. If he was the one who put drama and human emotion into ballet, then it was Mozart who opened up another world of the piano concerto with this piece written for his daughter. Gone are the gestures made purely to please; in comes the most profound lyrical outpouring imaginable and one which is miraculous for a young man of barely twenty-one years of age. Perhaps the two are linked more than we can ever know.

The surprises begin right at the outset. The piano (and by now it really had to be a fortepiano and not a harpsichord—something which is obvious from the number of dynamic markings in the solo part) simply can’t wait for the orchestra to present all the themes itself, and jumps in already in the second bar, completing their entrance. Mozart kept this concerto unique in his output and never did that again. It immediately establishes a relationship between soloist and orchestra that is closer, more richly entwined than ever before. Besides the usual strings, the scoring is only for two oboes and two horns, but Mozart makes full use of them. At key points the piano is accompanied only by oboes; at another the first horn doubles the soloist. The abundant themes are thrown around from part to part with an astonishing ease. In fact a soloist playing from memory can easily get mixed up in Mozart’s games, forgetting to play something that earlier was given to the orchestra. One theme, first introduced in bar 47, foreshadows the recitative-like passages to come in the next movement. Even after the cadenza (Mozart’s own) that is usually the stopping point for the soloist, Mozart doesn’t give up, but rather has the piano come in once more with the same trill he used for the piano’s ‘proper’ entry at the beginning.

The slow movement is marked Andantino, one of the most confusing of all tempo indications. There are endless debates about whether it means faster or slower than Andante (it seems that in 1777 it would have meant the latter). I say listen to the music and that will decide it for you. Darkness descends where previously there was light. The muted first and second violins play in canon, a Baroque device which Mozart places over a bass line that is totally Baroque in character. Piercing accents give it a ghostly feel. The oboes and horns enter, sustaining a long pedal note, yet another Baroque feature. All of that reminds us that this music is not that far removed from the late Baroque period and how much Mozart was influenced by it. The gesture of a sighing, descending scale is followed by a cadential, recitative-like passage that could not be more operatic. A final, unforgiving judgement is pronounced with two slashing unison crotchets. That all happens in the opening sixteen bars. What follows is a tragic aria ‘sung’ by the solo piano, always supported by the orchestra. The lead-in to the cadenza, usually the domain of the orchestra, is given over at the crucial moment to the piano. The cadenza itself is a miracle of expression, giving a brief second of hope before resolving into almost unbearable pain. Mutes come off for the final exclamation in the strings. As Michael Steinberg so aptly puts it: this is the concerto in which ‘Mozart, so to speak, became Mozart’.

High spirits immediately return for the final Rondeau, marked Presto. The 34-bar opening theme stated by the piano is the longest by far in any of the concertos. The ensuing action is constant and exciting, only interrupted by an Eingang (for which Mozart left a choice of two) and then, after some more high jinks, the final surprise of the piece—a minuet. This is one of those goosebump moments, especially when the strings enter, pizzicato and muted. Was this a tribute to Noverre the dancer? It could have been. Another Eingang in the piano deftly leads back to the energy of the Presto, and the concerto closes in the joyful mood in which it began.

Angela Hewitt © 2011


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