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Hyperion Records

CDA68049 - Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos 22 & 24
Photo of Angela Hewitt by Bernd Eberle.
CDA68049
Recording details: July 2013
National Arts Centre, Ottawa, Canada
Produced by Ludger Böckenhoff
Engineered by Robert-Eric Gaskell & Chris Johns
Release date: July 2014
Total duration: 63 minutes 17 seconds

Piano Concertos Nos 22 & 24
Allegro  [13'43]
Andante  [8'01]
Allegro  [10'57]
Allegro  [13'56]
Larghetto  [7'18]
Allegretto  [9'22]

Hyperion is delighted to present Angela Hewitt’s third volume of Mozart piano concertos. Writing in The Observer, Stephen Pritchard wrote of the first volume that ‘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’.

Here Angela Hewitt is joined by her compatriot National Arts Centre Orchestra of Canada and frequent collaborator Hannu Lintu for sparklingly stylish renditions of Mozart’s Piano Concertos Nos 22 and 24.

Both of these works were written between December 1785 and March 1786. For the first time in a piano concerto orchestration, in No 22 he uses clarinets—an instrument that became a regular member of orchestras only in the 1780s. No 24 is a dark and passionate work, made more striking by its classical restraint, and the final movement, a set of variations, is commonly called ‘sublime’.


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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
In the latter half of 1785 Mozart was working on his opera The Marriage of Figaro, which premiered on 1 May the following year. That would be enough for most composers, but not for Mozart. He was at the height of his creative powers, and his popularity in Vienna was second to none. What better way to keep his face before his adoring public than to write a piano concerto? In the space of four months, from December to March, he came up with not just one but three. They are all masterpieces. Between the two piano concertos on this recording—No 22 in E flat major, K482, and No 24 in C minor, K491—appeared the sublime No 23 in A major, K488.

Mozart also badly needed the money. Frequenting the aristocratic circles of his patrons and pupils, appearances needed to be kept up. He had no official appointment at the time so he was having to make a go of it alone. The expense book that he started in February 1784 had passed into Constanze’s hands and soon after was abandoned. That was a bad idea since they seemed to have constant debts, clearly living beyond their means. A letter of 20 November 1785 to his Viennese publisher Hoffmeister, finds Mozart pleading for money:

My dearest Hoffmeister!—
I turn to you in my hour of need, begging you to help me out with some money, which I need urgently at this moment.

The best way to bring in money fast was to give a concert. During Advent of 1785 Mozart hurriedly arranged a series of three concerts on 9, 16, and 23 December, for which he had 120 subscribers. The ink was hardly dry on the page when he presented his Piano Concerto No 22 in E flat major, K482, for the first time. There seems to be some confusion as to when the actual premiere took place. He entered it into his catalogue of works on 16 December, and could possibly have played it that day. What is certain is that one of its first performances was given in between acts of the oratorio Esther by his friend Ditters von Dittersdorf, and that at its first major outing the second movement was so appreciated that it had to be encored.

For the first time in the piano concertos Mozart used clarinets—an instrument that became a regular member of orchestras only in the 1780s. On 3 December 1778 Mozart heard them in Mannheim, and wrote to his father: ‘Ah, if only we too had clarinets. You can’t imagine what a splendid effect a symphony makes with flutes, oboes and clarinets.’ When the two concertos on this recording were premiered, it would have been a novelty to hear clarinets figure so prominently.

As is often the case with Mozart, he was capable of writing wildly different pieces at the same time. He managed to pull a lot of different characters out of his sleeve, and they went into his piano concertos as much as they did his operas. If the E flat major Concerto could be characterized as noble and elegant (perhaps akin to the role of the Countess in Figaro), then the C minor Concerto is the opposite. A desperate struggle to dispel a feeling of hopelessness does not succeed. Both concertos use trumpets and drums (in No 22 they are not found in the autograph score but only in the parts, though in Mozart’s hand). In the E flat major Concerto they add festive colour, but in the C minor they stab at the heart of the drama.

Never in his piano concertos was Mozart more generous with his number of themes than in the opening movement of the Piano Concerto No 22 in E flat major, K482. The initial fanfare is commented upon by suspensions in the horns and some jumpy bassoons. The second fanfare is answered with the same music but this time by the clarinets and violins, who announce their presence. Now the stage is set, and Mozart gives us a tutti that is resplendent in its orchestral colour. When the soloist enters, it is with a completely new theme, immediately establishing its independence. Wide leaps in the melodic line, so favoured by Mozart when he wrote for singers, combine with passage-work that must not be merely rattled off. This is certainly one of the most difficult of his concertos to play, but also one in which bravura for its own sake is totally out of place.

Two things deserve special mention in this opening movement: the abrupt change to B flat minor, introduced by rather angry chords in the piano, not long after its initial flourishes; and the, for me, haunting moment in the development section when, after a long passage with tortuous runs, the piano breaks forth with a new melody, breathtakingly beautiful in its serenity, but notable also for its brevity. Its only appearance leads us back masterfully to the recapitulation. One has to be wary of older editions of this piece that leave out two bars (at bar 282), not notated in the autograph but found on an additional page of sketches. I believe they were first published in 1961. I play the cadenza by Paul Badura-Skoda.

What was it that made the Viennese audience demand a repeat of the second movement when they first heard it? Was it their fondness for variation form (used here for only the second—and final—time in a slow movement of a Mozart piano concerto)? Was it the fact that the wind ensemble figures very prominently throughout? Those things probably didn’t hurt, but I think it was something more profound than that. As in his first masterpiece in the genre, the Piano Concerto No 9 in E flat major, K271, Mozart chose the key of C minor to express deep sorrow, if not tragedy. The violins add their mutes, and in so doing sound especially anguished when presenting the opening theme. The piano reiterates their plaintive song, embellishing it not just with notes but also with dramatic pauses that make us catch our breath. The variations alternate between major and minor—the first major one given over to the wind ensemble. Back in the minor, whirling figures in the piano give a sense of hopelessness that we also hear in the C minor Concerto. A lovely duet between flute and bassoon, gently accompanied by the strings, brings some brief respite. The next minor variation opens with an angry orchestra, answered pleadingly by the piano. But what probably did it for that early audience was the coda. Just when all hope seems to have been abandoned, Mozart throws in a dart of sunshine, twice briefly shifting to C major for only one bar. It is a stroke of genius, and it gives me the shivers every time I play this work.

The join into the last movement is also masterful. The finale will be brilliant, yes, but the atmosphere mustn’t be shattered immediately. The piano enters quietly with a pulsating orchestral accompaniment, but with a twinkle in the eye for sure. When the full orchestra takes up the hunting-song theme, we can only smile. Still I feel that even in the piano’s next entry, the sadness of the middle movement hasn’t quite disappeared. Soon, however, things simply get far too busy to be sad. Even Mozart was too busy to write out all the notes. For eleven bars in this movement he only puts in a bare outline, leaving the rest to be filled in by the performer.

Another similarity with the earlier E flat major Concerto, No 9, comes when Mozart interrupts the frolics with a minuet, in this case, an Andantino cantabile. I love what Michael Steinberg writes about this moment: ‘It suggests the Countess from the end of Figaro, drawing from her reservoir of immeasurable grace to forgive her philandering husband.’ Pizzicati from the violins, imitated by the piano, lead to a sorrowful passage that, via a short cadenza, get us back into the movement proper. Everything goes as one might expect until the coda where, in another stroke of genius, the piano comes in with a little tease before letting the orchestra finish. In the finale I play my own cadenzas.

If the Viennese public was charmed by K482, then they must have been shattered by the Piano Concerto No 24 in C minor, K491. The premiere is thought to have taken place on 7 April 1786, two weeks after Mozart completed it. Nothing is known about this concert, except that it was in the Burgtheater in Vienna (where three of his operas were also premiered), that the box office receipts went to him, and that it turned out to be his last major public appearance as soloist. We do know that Beethoven, upon hearing this concerto in the company of his friend Cramer, exclaimed: ‘Ah, we shall never be able to do anything like that!’

What makes this piece so different from Mozart’s other piano concertos? For one thing, the orchestra is large (this is the only Mozart piano concerto with both oboes and clarinets). For this piece Mozart used a rare type of paper ruled with sixteen staves. The autograph is in the collection of the Royal College of Music in London and is available in facsimile. It is nothing short of astonishing. In every way it reflects the unrest he must have felt at the time. His usual neatness has gone, and the autograph contains the earliest sketches right through to the final revisions, all rolled into one, with numerous crossings out and even funny little self-portraits to lead one to passages that got misplaced. Mozart wrote out the solo part (sometimes only abbreviated) after the rest and he ran out of space, having to write it in the staves for the trumpets and timpani. At one point in the slow movement, where the piano clashes with the winds, there is an obvious mistake.

The opening theme of the first movement uses all twelve tones of the scale. The time signature of 3/4 is uncommon (it’s also used in K449, but the feeling could not be more different). The rhythm of the chaconne, as Paul Badura-Skoda points out, is prominent. (There must be something linking C minor to unison writing. This concerto starts in unison as does Mozart’s C minor Piano Sonata, K457, the C minor Fantasy, K475, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 3, and the last movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata, Op 10 No 1.) In K491 the contours of the opening melody drag us downwards into despair. All of the themes Mozart uses in the first movement are somehow related to this opening material. They never escape it. Interestingly, though, the piano never openly states this main theme, but enters with its own lament (again using those wide leaps). The passage-work (not least in the remarkable coda) is all in a whirl, reflecting a feeling of hopelessness.

Having struggled so much with writing this work down, it is not surprising that Mozart didn’t leave us a cadenza. It is not at all easy to find one that suits. There are many in existence for this Concerto, but from the time I learned it when I was barely in my twenties I always favoured one I had heard (uncredited) on a recording with Robert Casadesus and George Szell. Having done some further research I found that this was actually by Camille Saint-Saëns (himself a huge champion of Mozart, and probably the first person ever to perform the complete cycle in concert). I have taken the liberty of making some slight changes to adjust it to my taste.

Mozart began the second movement but only wrote three bars before he changed his mind. It is interesting to see his first thoughts—a melody with more frills than the one he finally gave us. There is nowhere to hide in this drastically simple tune, first stated by the piano and then repeated like a chorus by the orchestra. When the piano continues its song, accompanied by the orchestra, a huge amount of emotion lies behind the apparently simple notes. The movement is in rondo form, and the episodes—the first in C minor, the second in A flat major—are given to the winds and then embellished by the piano and strings. A beautiful coda rounds off the movement.

Another rondo was out of the question, so instead Mozart turned to variation form for the finale. The tune could easily be completely gloomy if it wasn’t for the grace notes in the sixth and seventh bars. Most people see this as a march. I think it begins more like a sinister dance with its alla breve time signature. There’s still something of the Baroque in Mozart’s inspiration. The first two variations get increasingly busy, with whirling figures in the piano part. These come to the fore in the third variation (which is indeed march-like) in which the second violins have their moment. The change to A flat major in the fourth variation brings with it an abrupt change of mood. That part has always sounded to me as though some street musicians suddenly enter the scene, passing by the window, blissfully unaware of any tragic feelings. The fifth variation is amazing: beautiful counterpoint in the piano; then the scales in the left hand which we heard before in the second violins combine with the march-like rhythm in the right hand. C major enters for the sixth variation and tempts us into thinking the piece might end happily. It doesn’t. The original theme returns with interjections from the piano and winds. It builds up to a pause, and what I think should be a brief cadenza. This one is from that same Casadesus/Szell recording, but I have not been able to identify its composer. For the last variation, Mozart changes to 6/8—a time signature for the dance, if ever there was one. The piano begins, hesitatingly. The orchestra then joins in what becomes a whirling danse macabre, tormenting the soul until the very end.

Angela Hewitt © 2014


Other albums in this series
'Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos 6, 8 & 9' (CDA67840)
Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos 6, 8 & 9
'Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos 17 & 27' (CDA67919)
Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos 17 & 27
MP3 £6.99FLAC £6.99ALAC £6.99Buy by post £10.50 Studio Master: FLAC 24-bit 44.1 kHz £7.85ALAC 24-bit 44.1 kHz £7.85 CDA67919  Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Show: MP3 FLAC ALAC
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