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Mozart: Piano Concertos KV 466, 488, 491, 503


--© Piano Classics 2011

Where many a pianist would polish off a phrase to show what a consummate professional he is, Moravec plays it as if it is new and fresh and important - as if he finds it utterly fascinating.

--American Record Guide



A new recording by Ivan Moravec is always an event, especially when, as in the case of the Hänssler disc under review, it includes a work new to his repertoire. Moravec is not one of those artists who play cycles of the Complete Everybody at the drop of an impresario's hat. He extends his range only with the utmost circumspection, insisting on at least two years of preparation before he will perform a piece in public. Thus it is that he offers only two of Beethoven's five concertos, only one work by Schubert (the posthumous B-flat Sonata, which he added to his list three or four years ago, and which he plays sublimely), and a mere five or so Mozart concertos.

Of these, the C-Minor is the latest accession to the Moravec canon, and his interpretation of this dark and dramatic masterpiece is everything his admirers could have hoped for. Now in his sixties, he is playing better than ever. The tone is at once limpidly translucent and magisterially solid, the phrasing natural and inevitable. That often misunderstood word virtuosity really applies in his case, for his technique is so reliable and unobtrusive as to free him to concentrate purely on musical matters.

It seems to me also that, along with an increased readiness to embellish (though still modestly) where the music calls for it, Moravec has lately developed a surer feeling for Mozartean tempo. This is borne out by the convincing pacing of all three movements in the C-Minor Concerto, and demonstrated even more strikingly by a comparison of his new (October 1995) version of the C-Major Concerto, K. 503, with the 1973 Prague recording now reissued by Supraphon in a generous coupling with the concertos K. 449 and K. 488. Great though his reading of K. 503 always was (and I have heard him play it live several times over the years), I felt twenty years ago that the quick movements were a shade too bustling and that the Andante was correspondingly a touch heavy. Where the timings of the three movements in the older recording read 13:35, 8:37, and 8:08, the new one clocks in at 14:00, 8:00, and 8:31. The difference seems to me enormously beneficial to the impact of the work: the first movement is now unmistakably majestic, the second has an irresistible flow, and the third sparkles without ever for a moment sounding rushed.

Completed by Moravec's editions of effective cadenzas by Edwin Fischer in K. 491 and Carl Reinecke in K. 503, the performances also have the benefit of expert support from Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. Marriner has fewer illuminating ideas about the music than his soloist (which makes it particularly ironic that Hänssler has chosen to put the conductor's picture on the spine of the jewelbox and his name on the actual disc, where Moravec is not mentioned), but as a thoroughly practiced concerto partner he has his orchestra playing both musically and -- except for one curious omission -- punctually. The exception is to be found in the twenty-first measure of the C-Minor Concerto's first movement, where the timpanist seems to have forgotten to play his G. But perhaps it's partly because of the excellent presence accorded to the timpani in Andrew Kenner's beautifully balanced and sweet-toned recording that this tiny blemish is noticeable at all. Certainly such a trifle in no way detracts from the status of this disc as my top choice from now on for either concerto, and I hope that Hänssler will give us more Moravec to go with it: that Schubert sonata would be a welcome next step.

It's unlucky for Supraphon that its reissue of the three Mozart concertos Moravec recorded in the 1970s has to face such competition. None of these three performances is quite so outstanding as the two on the Hänssler disc, nor can the decent but occasionally somewhat fierce recorded sound measure up. But Moravec's interpretations of K. 449 and K. 488 are both highly distinguished, and deserve to rank as attractive alternatives to the admirable versions of Barenboim, Brendel, and Perahia.

--Bernard Jacobson, Jan/Feb 1997

Classical Music Online

Rarely does a recording come along that renders all others meaningless in comparison, but this is one such performance. As an ardent admirer of Mozart's music, I have searched high and low for a recording that could possibly stand shoulder-to-shoulder with this one, but I could not find one that compares favorably even when you consider the price... I personally guarantee you will never find a better performance. Ivan Moravec is stellar, Marriner achieves Classical perfection, and they come together to form one of the best Mozartian partnerships audiences have heard in years. A must buy, for any Mozart lover. Run - don't walk - to your local [record dealer] and purchase it. You can thank me later! ;-)

--Joe Moreno, editor

American Record Guide

These [Hänssler 98.142 and 98.955] are from 1996 and 7 but are only now being released in the USA. Frankly, I have little interest in Mozart concerto recordings, because there have been so many bad ones and there are a handful of great ones that are unlikely to be surpassed. But when I saw the pianist's name, I knew that he could give the great performances a run for their money. He has recorded at least 23 and 25 before - in the mid-1970s for Supraphon. We reviewed the CD reissues in January/February 1997, writing of Moravec's uncommon degree of eloquence and idiomatic style and concluding that no one conveys the spirit and beauty of this music better. I was not fond of the Czech Chamber Orchestra that accompanied him in those recordings, so I was glad to see Marriner at the helm here. His accompaniments for Brendel (Philips) were terrific.

The orchestra here is about 55 musicians - enough to give it heft - and they sound great. Often in Mozart piano concertos the orchestra leaves something to be desired - but not here. Nor can anyone complain that Marriner is too glib, though he has been sometimes in the past. I think it likely that Moravec won him over and helped draw excellent orchestral work out of him and his musicians.

Speaking of glibness, you'll never hear it from Moravec. There's almost a wide-eyed wonder to his playing, and where many a pianist would polish off a phrase to show what a consummate professional he is, Moravec plays it as if it is new and fresh and important - as if he finds it utterly fascinating.

In 20, some prefer a slower II (the Romance); if so, Ingrid Haebler's recording is the one to have - it's a minute longer. Moravec is about average in tempo, and it never seems too fast. Again in that movement I am impressed that nothing sounds glib. Moravec refuses to treat it like old hat, to make it sound like he's played it dozens of times. He seems to think about every phrase but still avoid sounding halting or stop-and-go.

When it comes to 23 and 24 the competition is incredible: Curzon, Kempff, Kovacevich, Zacharias, Barenboim, Haebler, Ashkenazy. I couldn't part with any of them (in 24 Curzon and Zacharias remain fully competitive with Moravec in every respect; in 23 Curzon certainly does), but these Hänssler recordings stand up very well. Again there is the gorgeous orchestral support, beautifully captured by the engineers, with plenty of brass and heft. That is never any better anywhere else. Again there is the innocence of the playing - a naive simplicity that makes many another pianist sound too sophisticated. Again there are perfect tempos and perfectly judged phrasing. Why have we had to wait so long for Marriner and Moravec? The music belongs to them. ...

Moravec recorded No. 25 years ago; that was issued both on Vanguard and Supraphon. So this is not a new interpretation. And this is not anybody's favorite Mozart concerto; it lacks charm. It seems too serious - almost academic - much of the time. (On the other hand, it's not as boring as 9.) Bernstein recorded it with gobs of personality; Moravec is lighter and sweeter and treats it like the other other concertos. Between his special touch at the piano and Marriner's marvelous accompaniment, 25 almost loses its ugly duckling status. No other pianist has lived with this concerto so long and knows all its ins and outs so well.

--VROON, November/December 2000

Cannes Classical Award: Best Solo with Orchestra - 18th Century, 1999 listener

Marriner's credentials as a distinguished Mozartean are well-known and need no elaboration here. Moravec too has been playing Mozart beautifully for many years. I have a cold war recording of his from the mid-'60's where Mozart's gorgeous K. 475 Fantasy is coupled with Piano Concerto no. 25. His approach to Mozart has always been romantic, carrying a rich and full-bodied sound, and this tradition continues here.

No. 20 is, along with no. 24, Mozart's most anguished concerto, and Moravec and Marriner bring out its full emotional range in a manner that leaves Perahia and Uchida in the dust. Not since Barenoim's EMI recording have I been so moved by an interpretation of this work. No. 23 is taken more lightly and briskly, as it should be, but if you want to hear how effortlessly Mozart could mask complex heartbreak with deceptively simple lyricism, listen to this concerto's slow movement. It's unforgettable.

Marriner and Moravec have also collaborated on no.'s 24 and 25, and I'd recommend that as highly as I do this recording. I was lucky enough to see Moravec perform Mozart in 1991, and he's a true artist. If you're new to these concertos, then wait no longer--a whole range of undiscovered delights await you. If you have a recording of these concertos you're happy with, give this a try too. I'm sure Moravec will bring forth new insights into these pieces you thought you knew so well.

--Christopher Smith Essential recording

These readings appear to be the beginning of a cycle, which should come as welcome news to all Mozarteans. Born in Prague in 1930, Ivan Moravec is a pianist of uncommon gifts and one of the most sympathetic interpreters of Mozart's music ever to sit at a keyboard. His accounts of these concertos, recorded in 1995 and 1997, blend strength and gentleness, spontaneity and calculation, the playful and the serious, in a unique way--stirring in the listener that feeling of elevation that is the hallmark of the very greatest Mozart performances. Marriner and the ASMF attain the same high level of excellence, and the sound is superb.

--Ted Libbey

Oh, my!

This is one of those times you put the CD in, sit back, and stop breathing! It is also one of those rare times when you realize how much you want Moravec and Marriner and the Academy to get back into the studio and get the whole set completed and rushed to market! There is simply nothing comparable in the catalog for sound reproduction, breath-taking and sensitive piano playing and incredible orchestral support. This CD and its companion of the 20/23 concerti simply defy description in their beauty and near perfection of rendering Mozart. But only 4 concerti of the full set leave one hungry and desperate for more. I simply can't get these two CDs out of my player. listener

...quite simply the greatest performance of Mozart's 24th piano concerto yet recorded. Move over Brendel, Ashkenazy, and Pires; Moravec has proven yet again why he's one of the greatest pianists alive... Music-making at its very best. listener

Répertoire des disques compacts

J'ai déjà relaté ici que Rudolf Firkusny considérait Ivan Moravec comme le grand génie méconnu parmi les artistes tchèques. L'interprétation par ce demier de la trilogie beethovénienne Pathétique-Clair de lune-Appassionata (VAI, 10 de Répertoire) nous avait démontré que Firkusny était parfaitement lucide. Et cet enregistrement lumineux le confirme.

Ceux qui avaient intronisé jadis Serkin-Abbado grands sages de la discographie mozartienne en seront pour leurs frais en comparant leurs héros à ces enregistrements-ci : Moravec et Marriner nous délivrent un modèle de concentration, de pudeur, d'humanité et d'intelligence, sans jamais scléroser, épaissir ou pontifier le texte mozartien.

En premier (comme dans Beethoven) on sera frappé par l'indescriptible noblesse et richesse du toucher du pianiste tchèque. Ses mouvements lents sont de véritables Passions humaines intériorisées (surtout, évidemment, le fa dièse mineur du 23e Concerto). Écoutez comment s'éteint la Romance du 20e Concerto, ou même l'entrée en matière pianistique de cette méme œuvre : tout est dit avec une modestie, une classe, une aura bouleversantes. Mais partout ailleurs, au détour d'une phrase, le poids donné à une note, l'évanouissement d'une sonorité, la simple poésie d'un phrasé nous émeuvent.

Moravec, sans jamais alourdir le toucher (écoutez la retenue des forte dans la section à 6'40-7'35 du développement dans le volet initial du K. 466), donne évidemment du poids à Mozart, loin de la volubilité des chambristes chaleureux (Barenboïm et Perahia) : la destinée humaine à travers la partition lui importe plus que le charme immédiat du dialogue concertant. Et pourtant, écoutez ces envols quasi juvéniles dans le Finale du 23e Concerto...

Neville Marriner est tout à fait en phase avec son soliste : il sait que ce témoignage sera bien davantage qu'un disque de plus dans sa discographie mozartienne, qui n'a finalement vraiment déçu que dans sa collaboration concertante avec Alfred Brendel. Il ne lâche jamais la bride de son Academy et colore à l'infini ces concertos en imposant un engagement forcené à des bois somptueux. Écoutez l'engagement et le souci de la polyphonie dès la première introduction : vous serez vite convaincus...

Voilà donc un très grand disque pour mozartiens confirmés. Pour un premier abord, le coffret EMI Rouge et Noir de Barenboïm reste évidemment le choix évident, d'autant plus qu'il offre les Concertos nos 9, 21 et 27 en prime ! La note éditoriale sanctionne une traduction assez scolaire d'un bon texte allemand.

--Christophe Huss

I regard Barenboim and Moravec as masters of comparable stature and parallel virtues two of the greatest pianist-musicians of our day, and two of the supreme Mozarteans.

The D-Minor Concerto is a fairly recent addition to Ivan Moravec's repertoire, but ... he first recorded K 488 in 1974, and that version, with Josef Vlach and the Czech Chamber Orchestra, is still available on Supraphon in a generous coupling with the E-Major and C-Major concertos, K 449 and K 503. The last-named work was effectively superseded, in Moravec's own discography, by a new Hänssler Classics recording coupled with the C-Minor Concerto, which I reviewed enthusiastically in Fanfare 20:3.

Moravec's interpretation of this dark and tempestuous concerto has all of the expected intensity, drama, and lyricism, and his tone is as magically lambent as ever. I regret the absence of an Eingang at measure 166 in the finale. The cadenzas, by the way, are Beethoven's, and are not abbreviated as you could be forgiven for inferring from the rather vague annotation. K 488 is, under Moravec's hands, no less beautiful than before. As was the case with his second version of K 503, his new tempi are fractionally slower in the outer movements and distinctly faster in the Adagio, which is stylistically to the good. ... connoisseurs devoted to this wonderful pianist will obviously want both recordings on their shelves.

--Copyright © 2001 andante Corp. All Rights Reserved. (Excerpted from the article archived at

Schwann Opus

Ivan Moravec is simply one of the great pianists alive today. His reputation rests on superlative performances and recordings of a limited repertoire in which he really is supreme: Debussy, Chopin, Brahms, and Mozart. Never having enjoyed a long-term relationship with a major label, he has seen his recordings go in and out of the catalogue; we can only hope that his association with this distinguished label remains long and fruitful. He certainly deserves the recognition.

I have no hesitation in recommending this recording (the second in a projected series) as the finest Mozart concerto disc in many, many years. Every note is alive with meaning, the soloist capturing perfectly the tension between structure and spontaneity that is the essence of Mozart’s concerto form. In the moody and dramatic D minor concerto, Moravec captures the gloomy tone of his entrance perfectly, but is not afraid to explode with bursts of pianistic rage where the music calls for it. This is not small scale playing. He calls upon the full resources of the modern piano, but never overwhelms the music - he’s simply adapted its range to the scale of the instrument, as all great musicians will.

The A major concerto - that paragon of Mozartean elegance - is similarly successful, with a slow movement to die for and an absolutely delicious finale. Marriner and the Academy certainly know this music, but as with all of Sir Neville’s work for this label, his accompaniments give no hint of routine. His performance is as fresh and invigorating as Moravec’s, making this a true partnership. The excellent recorded sound certainly helps too: the balance between piano and orchestra is ideal, while the overall acoustic lends the music both warmth and naturalness. An outstanding disc in every way.

--David Hurwitz, 1998


Album notes

These liner notes are from the original Hänssler CDs.

Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor K. 466

Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor K. 466 This is without a doubt the land of the keyboard, the best place in the world for my art, wrote Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to his father in early March 1782, nearly a year after his relocation to Vienna. Indeed, Mozart had achieved great success - both artistic and financial - with his Lent Concerts (the performance of operas was not allowed during the Christian Lent season). He had initially collaborated with the concert impresario P.I. Martin, who had been granted the right by Imperial decree to give twelve concerts in the Augarten. Later, however, Mozart organized his own concerts, called Akademien. Unfortunately, he saw himself increasingly exposed to negative criticism, for his works had begun to diverge too strongly from the sphere of social, galant music. In Cramers Magazin für Musik, for example, he is compared with a truly insignificant composer in a less than flattering light: Whereas Kozeluch’s works are played repeatedly and enjoyed everywhere, Mozart’s do not afford the same enjoyment. It is also undeniable that he has a pronounced predilection for the difficult and unusual. Another critic distinguished between Mozart and Boccherini as follows: What a difference there is between Mozart and Boccherini! The former leads us through jagged gorges into tangled forests sparsely strewn with flowers; the latter leads us to sunny clearings with flowery knolls...

Few music lovers today would call Mozart’s D minor Concerto K. 466 tangled. There is, however, an unmistakable melancholy that is his alone and which Mozart’s contemporaries quickly and accurately recognized.

And melancholy was no way to draw audiences in Vienna. Dismayed, they named away from Mozart. The D minor Piano Concerto was given its premiere two years before Don Giovanni, which is also in the same key. The concerto’s genesis is typical of Mozart’s work method. Leopold Mozart wrote to his daughter: Wolfgang performed an excellent new concerto on which the copyist was still working when we arrived. Your brother did not even have time to play through the Rondo, since he had to check the parts. Unless he resorted to simplified improvisations, even the nimble Mozart must have been somewhat aflutter at having to sightread the technically and musically demanding finale! The shift from the purely virtuoso concerto to the symphonic piece for solo and orchestra had finally been consummated in this work (he wrote only one more concerto in a minor key, K. 491 in C minor).

The dramatically pulsating syncopations of the main theme are reserved for the tutti. The soloist provides a contrast with an elegiac secondary theme featuring completely new material. It, in its turn, is reserved for the solo instrument and is not heard once in the orchestral part.

As the movement unfolds, Mozart weaves the orchestral and the solo parts into a dense fabric of motivic and contrapuntal relationships while retaining the antagonism between the solo instrument and the tutti. One of the earliest cadenzas for the first and last movements written after Mozart’s death is from Beethoven, who greatly admired this concerto and no doubt intended to do Mozart’s widow a favor. A number of pianists today find this cadenza too long and either shorten it or play their own.

Bridging the first and last movements, the Romanze would be a veritable oasis of mellifluousness if it were not for the passionate middle section which harks back to the first movement while anticipating the atmosphere of the finale. In this middle section, Mozart paid homage to the style of his great idol Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, one of the inventors of the musical Sturm und Drang. There are also a number of parallels in Haydn’s symphonic works of those years, which is not surprising since Haydn also thought highly of C.P. E. Bach.

Between the first and last movements is a congruence such as is rarely found in a minor-key piece by Mozart. It is not until the entrance of the major mode that a conciliatory gesture brightens the work just before its close.

Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major K. 488

The A major Concerto, written one year after the dark-hued D minor Concerto, seems to look back to the idyllic world of earlier years. Actually, however, it was one of Mozart’s last attempts to satisfy the conservative taste of the Viennese. Like his earlier concertos, Mozart most likely also wrote this piece for one of his Akademien, though it is not known for which. The number of subscribers had dwindled breathtakingly, leaving practically only Baron van Swieten as one of the last diehards who paid his subscription in advance.

If they had wanted, the Viennese could have found in this work everything that they loved: the long orchestral introduction presented by the strings and taken up by the woodwind in a contrasting tone colour; the repetition of the exposition by the soloist who seems at pains not to disturb the galant, serene gesture of the music. As is often the case with Mozart, the development introduces a third theme which plays a central role. The cadenza was written by Mozart.

The second movement begins with a 12-bar piano introduction which presents one of Mozart’s loveliest melodies, comparable to that of the second movement of the Clarinet Concerto K. 622. This is the only example of a piano concerto which uses the key of F-sharp minor; the entire scheme of the keys is extraordinarily refined. Mozart no doubt profusely ornamented the melody part whenever he played the work himself; this is confirmed by a copy made by his pupil Barbara Ployer which was found in his estate. Whether a performer today would dare attempt something like this or whether he prefers keeping to the Urtext is a matter best left to each soloist.

The rondo finale abounds in a lively and - intentionally - rather disorganized interplay of themes and motifs. And if the listener should find the cheerful mood familiar, he needn’t look far. The concerto was written while Mozart was working on The Marriage of Figaro. Like the opera, it maintains a delicate balance between boisterous high spirits and gentle melancholy. Mozart was no doubt acutely aware of the work’s artistic value; otherwise, he would not have offered to sell it, along with some symphonies and chamber works, to the Prince of Donaueschingen, a musical connoisseur. The fact that he even agreed to the compromise of replacing his beloved clarinet with violin and viola parts shows how much the potential purchase mattered to him.

--Klaus K. Füller Translation Roger Clément © 1997 Hänssler-Verlag, Neuhausen-Stuttgart

Words of praise and a great deal of money - but for how long? History has not been kind to the man who posed this question to court organist Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1781, Count Arco, the Master of the Kitchen of Prince Archbishop Colloredo of Salzburg. After all, he sent Mozart tumbling down the stairs with a swift kick in the pants when the musician had the impertinence to hand in his resignation for the fourth or fifth time. The ousting had been preceded by a conversation in which Count Arco vividly described to the servant Mozart the dangers of a freelance career in Vienna. Today we know that Arco was clear-sighted and foresaw Mozart’s future. But Mozart’s immediate wish was to leave Salzburg as quickly as possible.

Indeed, Mozart took in the equivalent of half of his yearly Salzburg salary in one sole engagement at the Austrian imperial court. Moreover, the Viennese were enraptured with Mozart’s virtuosity on the piano. They subscribed to his concerts and even purchased his works by subscription. Unfortunately, their enthusiasm waned, and after four years the Viennese no longer wanted to hear his works. In the end, Mozart could claim only one single subscriber for his piano concerts, Baron van Swieten. Could it be that it was the pianoforte - and not Mozart - which had mesmerized the Viennese? The new-fangled keyboard instrument which was spreading like wildfire across Europe and whose pride of place in every salon had been ridiculed by Mozart on his visit to Paris in 1778?

In fact, the pianoforte was by that time not so new anymore. Bach had become acquainted with it in 1747 at the court of King Frederick the Great. Though the Silbermann instrument was one of the best, Bach was not particularly enthusiastic about it. Mozart heard the pianoforte in 1765 when he was in London, where the first major works for this instrument had been created by Johann Christian Bach and Muzio Clementi. But the honour of having written the first series of concertos for the pianoforte (whose volume did not yet equal that of a modern-day instrument) came to Mozart - even though this instrument was never to become his favourite.

In March 1786, just several weeks before the premiere of his opera, The Marriage of Figaro on 1 May 1786, Mozart completed his sunny Piano Concerto in A major K. 488 (which he entered into his Verzeichnüss on 2 March) and began writing the more darkly coloured Piano Concerto in C minor K. 491 - in great haste, as always in his Viennese years. It was completed on 24 March and premiered at a concert in the Burgtheater on 3 April. The piano part was hastily penned in a sort of musical stenography. Mozart later revised it, which led en divergent readings at several bars in all three movements. At certain passages, the harmonizations of the orchestral part even run counter to those of the soloist. At other times, bars are missing in the orchestral part. (Such irregularities can be effortlessly repaired by musicologists.) The skill and ease with which Mozart could improvise ultimately hindered the transmission of the cadenzas. For this recording, the soloist selected and arranged cadenzas written by the great German pianist Edwin Fischer, which are sensitively adapted to the structures of the works.

The work has a quantity of characteristics which make it stand out from the others. The key, for instance: it is the only concerto in a minor key next to the D minor concerto. The 3/4 time in the first movement is found only twice to Mozart’s piano concertos. The size of the orchestra is also remarkable: it is the largest and most colourful of all the piano concertos. In addition to the strings, it features pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns and trumpets. Kettledrums were added to heighten all this brilliance. The scoring reflects Mozart’s intention of wanting to write not merely a concerto, but also a symphonic work. It is easy to understand why Beethoven admired this work the most along with the D minor concerto. What is less easy to understand is why nearly all musicologists, mutually seeking confirmation for their findings in one another’s writings, keep insisting on the tragic spirit of this work. We do not wish to ignore the darker basic mood any more than the author Wolfgang Hildesheimer, Sir Neville Marriner (and, no doubt, the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields) and the soloist Ivan Moravec, but we are much more stirred and invigorated by the work’s vitality and its dancing three-four time.

The first movement is fully under the sway of the first theme, which is stated softly and in unison by the strings. It is a powerfully ascending triad followed by a chain of descending sequences which in their turn are concluded by an upward leap of a diminished seventh. The secondary theme remains little more than a swiftly scurrying episode whenever it appears. The piano must wait 100 bars before it can finally enter, and when it does, then with no less than two new themes. Impatient, as if upset by the piano’s impertinence, the winds and strings soon burst in with the primary theme. The development takes on an equally unexpected turn when the entire orchestra keeps re-forming itself in ever new constellations as it illuminates the original material from every possible rhythmic and harmonic perspective.

The second movement, in E flat major, is a romance in rondo form and in two strophes (A-B-A-C-A-Coda). The secondary themes -in C minor and A flat major - are in a more rapid tempo and express something like restrained sorrow. They thus contrast with the enchanting, tranquil songfulness of the principal theme.

The third movement, whose mood is related to that of the first, consists of a march-like theme stated by the orchestra and six variations whose modifications are sometimes effected by changes in the instrumentation. The variations are supplemented twice with units containing new themes but which are to be understood as something like the variation of a variation. At the beginning, Mozart returns to the thematic material of the first movement by inverting its direction. The C minor triad now descends, and the diminished seventh makes a downward leap. The first variation is entrusted to the piano. The second sets up a dialogue between the strings on the one side, and the winds and piano on the other The third tautens the material through rhythmic dotting, whereby an episode in A flat major (divided between the piano and the winds) provides a momentary slackening of the tension. The fourth variation, again in C minor, focuses on the development of the piano part (while the theme is in the right hand, the left is given much figurative and chordal work) into which another soothing episode (in C major) slips in with new material. Almost as if this were an error, the strings return with an emphatic statement of the theme at the beginning of the fifth variation. The piano weaves figurations around it and the winds introduce caesura. After the solo cadenza, at the beginning of the final variation, the meter switches abruptly from two halves to six eighths and is accompanied by an intensification of the drama. The work ends on an irreconcilable note; it is the only one of Mozart’s concertos en end in the minor mode.

The Piano Concerto in C major K. 503, which temporarily closed the series of the Viennese concertos, was completed on 4 December 1786. It is possible, however, that Mozart wrote the first movement two years earlier Perhaps he interrupted his work on it back then in order to finish the more brilliant and appealing C major Concerto K. 467, which he found a chance to perform at a concert in Vienna’s Hoftheater on 10 March 1785.

Once again, Mozart the pianist was being pressed for time by Mozart the composer He was already expected to play the solo part at an Advent concert in Trattner’s Casino on 5 December We know of further performances in Prague, Vienna (7 March 1787) and at Leipzig’s Gewandhaus (1789). By now, the piano concerto form bad lost much of its appeal for Mozart and the Viennese public. Only two more concertos followed the C major: the Concerto in D major K. 536 in 1788, for which Mozart found no more possibilities of performance in Vienna, and the Concerto in B flat major K. 595 of 1791, which he premiered at his last public appearance as a concert pianist at a concert organized by the Viennese clarinettist Joseph Beer on 4 March of that year.

The C major Concerto is the longest of Mozart’s concertos. Responsible for its dazzling brilliance is not only its rich orchestration (only the clarinets are missing in the wind section) but also its use of early composition techniques such as lengthy sequences and strict polyphony (including six independently led contrapuntal parts at the end of the first movement). In addition, there is also a refined key plan which balances the major and minor modes in an elegant manner.

The first movement begins solemnly with a series of tonic and dominant chords from which emerges a motif built of a stepwise progression of seconds. This motif is spun out exhaustively and in constant permutation. The introduction of a secondary theme in C minor ushers in a lengthy orchestral postlude before the piano sets in with a passage that introduces the actual exposition. The solo exposition does not limit itself to repeating the previously presented themes, but spins them out rather randomly before introducing two of its own themes in E flat major (!) and G major. The development - brimming with modulations -and the recapitulation progress without any form-breaking surprises.

The second movement outwardly seems to be cast in a sonata form. The recapitulation, however, is preceded not by a development section, but by an extensive epilogue.

The third movement, a Rondo, unfolds at a leisurely pace. Nevertheless, the soloist finds ample time to display his virtuosity with broad leaps and all manner of figurative runs and passages.

The cadenzas which Ivan Moravec selected and arranged for this recording were written by the frequently underestimated romantic composer Carl Reinecke.

--Klaus K. Füller Translation Roger Clément © 1996 Hänssler-Verlag, Neuhausen-Stuttgart


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