Alfred Brendel, piano, with Walter Klien, piano, and the Vienna State Opera Orchestra under Paul Angerer, Mozart: Piano Concertos 9 And 14

Dawn Chan

By Dawn Chan

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Renowned pianist Alfred Brendel has referred to Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 9, known as the Jeunehomme, as a "wonder of the world,” going so far as to assert that Mozart "did not surpass this piece in the later piano concertos." In light of Brendel's feelings, it's fairly provocative to pair the Jeunehomme with Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 14. The latter also happens to be in E-flat, and the consistency of key raises interesting questions about a composer's development: How did Mozart, at age 21, find the burst of courage needed to write the No. 9, which pushes the boundaries of concerto convention and accepted harmonic complexity? Furthermore, after writing a great work, how does a composer move on to write pieces that are more mature but perhaps less ambitious? Listening to this album only becomes more fascinating with those questions in mind.

Look no further: The eighth wonder of the world

One could hardly think of a more qualified musician to frame those questions. Brendel is among the few pianists whose tonal changes alone can pull the listener through a harrowing emotional arc; the best moments of these recordings stem from the concerti's rich, Bach-inspired progressions, where Brendel brings tone after tone — from dark organ-like chords to fading crystalline sounds — to each successive harmony.

By avoiding faster, more exciting tempi, as in the third movement of the No. 9, Brendel and conductor Antonio Janigro show scholarly conviction, staying true to Mozart's tempo markings. Overall, Brendel, Janigro and the Zagreb Soloists Ensemble transcend the almost nauseating flippancy of so many other Mozart renditions by remaining mindful of the larger picture, of Mozart's graceful rhythmic drive.