Presto Classical
August 2016

To say that Franz Xaver Mozart had a lot to live up to is probably my underestimation of the week – Wolfgang Amadeus’s precocious but modest youngest son prompted both his mother and his teacher Antonio Salieri to express sentiments along the lines of acorns not falling far from trees when he was barely into puberty. The long shadows cast by his father’s premature and impoverished death meant that much of his career was devoted to teaching, and though never as dizzyingly prolific as Mozart Senior (after all, few people were) his relatively modest output was wide-ranging and attractive; the two piano concertos presented on Volume Three of Hyperion’s Classical Piano Concerto series suggest that his gravestone inscription (‘May the name of his father be his epitaph’) is characteristically self-effacing but perhaps only part of the story.

For me, the most distinctive and memorable work on the disc is his second, E flat Piano Concerto, written in 1818, melodically rich throughout and more overtly virtuosic than its predecessor—it came as no great surprise to learn that of the three concertos featured here (the third, by Muzio Clementi, is comparatively slight yet immediately appealing) this is the one which has received significant previous outings on record, including one from Sebastian Knauer under Philippe Entremont. The assertive opening theme, with its ascending octave leap and quasi-fugal development throughout the orchestral exposition, brings the beginning of the Haffner Symphony irresistibly to mind and established itself as a not unwelcome earworm for me after just one or two hearings!

Indeed, the influence of his father’s later keyboard concertos continues to be keenly felt throughout, particularly in the way he handles the wind writing. There are odd moments, too, which also call Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto (which predates it by nearly a decade) to mind - though I’ve not been able to uncover any evidence that Franz Xaver would have heard the work at this stage in his career, given that he was based in Lemberg (now Lviv, in modern-day Ukraine) during the time of composition and was only just about to embark on the first European concert-tours which would bring him into contact with wider cultural influences.

All three works receive splendid advocacy from Howard Shelley (a stalwart of Hyperion’s Romantic Piano Concerto series, and also a tireless champion of Clementi’s solo piano music) and the incisive St Gallen Symphony Orchestra, who offer especially piquant wind playing and some delightfully teasing rubato as the theme reappears time and again in the Rondo finale of the E flat concerto.

Presto Classical