Embracing the light and dark of Mozart’s Piano Concertos, this St Louis Symphony recording – its return to a studio in nearly two decades – enchants with tempos that mould appreciably this expressive music, giving it time and richness of sound (superbly recorded, well-judged balance between the piano and the ensemble, woodwinds pertinently to the fore, starring roles, violins antiphonal, basses left-positioned). Orli Shaham (sister of Gil) and David Robertson are at-one interpretatively (they are, as a secondary fact, married) and the SLS members are stylish and sympathetic confreres.
The opening of K453, while poised, is also infectious in its spirit, delightfully detailed, Shaham perfectly set up to maintain the promise, which she does, with sparkle, shape and modulation. If the slow movement enters into a secretive inner sanctum – brought off with sensitivity – then the Finale trips lightly and urbanely, birdsong pecks along the way, if also tinges of dark clouds, and with something saved for the comic-opera conclusion.
K491 is a graver piece, although minor-key angst is not overdone by these performers, nor though is the music’s soulfulness and strife glossed over. The orchestral introduction finds emotional urgency, Shaham speaks of isolation in her initial appearance; thus an admirable tension is produced, theatre and Innigkeit intertwined, the aural equivalent of a page-turner. The first-movement cadenza is by Saint-Saëns; it’s short but comes with a dramatic flourish – you know it’s there – and you’ll also find it on recordings by Casadesus (Szell) and Solomon (Menges). From Shaham and Robertson the central Larghetto flows along as a contemplative song, and the Finale is tenacious, as if on the run, but there is no escaping the minor mode.
The release date is August 23 (this review posted on August 10) and if you won’t see cadenza information in the booklet, you will find there (alongside the complete naming of the SLS crew, not all playing here of course) an extensive three-way conversation between pianist, conductor and Elaine Sisman – the latter a “bona fide academic authority on Mozart’s music ... [and who] thinks Mozart is really cool...”. He is when performed like this.