Three Pianists tackle three early Mozart Concertos

Mozart Unwrapped The Early Piano Concertos: Florian Mitrea (piano); Andrejs Osokins (piano); Soojung Park (piano); Daimon Quartet (Kristine Balanas – violin; Marta Pawlowska – violin; Mihai Cocea – viola; Antonio Novais – cello), Royal Academy of Music at King’s Place, 18.6.2011. (KC)

Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 11 in F, K 413 (1783) (Florian Mitrea)
Piano Concerto No. 12 in A, K 414 (1782) (Andrejs Osokins)
Piano Concerto No. 13 in C, K 415 (1783) (Soojung Park)

This made for a fascinating evening. It’s not often that one has the chance of hearing live three Mozart piano concertos played by 3 different soloists, one after another. Comparison-making becomes an immediate event!

Mozart describes these works as ‘very brilliant, pleasing to the ear, and natural, without being vapid’. He made the arrangements himself, tailoring orchestral works into pieces ready for chamber performance. There is some loss of character: he omits brass, timpani and woodwind (sparingly used in the originals, in any case). However, the increase in domesticity does provide a corresponding gain in emotional intensity and intimacy. All in all, these re-arrangements gave Mozart – a relative newcomer to Vienna – an opening for making himself known and for increasing sales.

Florian Mitrea plays – on the whole – a robust, rather heavy-handed Mozart. In the outer movements, he was a broad-mannered virtuoso on the concert platform, battling to make his presence heard against competition from a non-existent orchestra. Contrasts of timbre and volume were laboured; solid chords were often over-emphatic; arpeggios and decorations were ungainly. The last movement gave no sense of ‘minuetto’. The larghetto expressed a different sensibility.; the tone became more delicate, without becoming effete; there was style, elegance and finesse. Mitrea’s approach had suddenly become Mozartian. If only he had approached the outer movements in an equally appropriate manner!

Soojung Park had smaller fingers, with a lighter touch. Her playing was nimble and precisely articulated, but rather mechanistic and anonymous, as though Mozart’s virtuosity on the keyboard became little more than a collection of C18 études written for the harpsichord. She showed brilliance without sparkle, also missing the humour and bravura which characterise K415.

The star of the evening was undoubtedly Andrejs Osokins. His mastery over – and sympathy for – Mozart’s idiom was quietly evident from his first entry. His phrasing was poised, evident at every turn, adroitly placed without over-emphasis. His musicality recognised that he had no need to draw attention to himself. There were many individual touches in his handling – all of them delicately, elegantly in service to the music while retaining aristocratic firmness. All he had to do was one of the most difficult things in the world of music – to play Mozart with an alert mind, nimble fingering and sensitive, refined emotions. He also, let it be said, was the only soloist with the grace to applaud his accompanists publicly.

The Daimon quartet gave energetic, unperturbed support to each of the soloists, working hard to make some sort of solid sound in quite a large hall [as compared with a chamber]. Tuttis and solo passages tend to alternate in K 413 and K 414, with the occasional discreet, pared-down accompaniment. K415 has a more robust dialogue and also more bravura in the tuttis. For this, the taller of the two violinists (Marta Pawlowska?) took over as first violin most effectively – more evidently involved and with warm, though restrained, panache and vigour.

Ken Carter