February 11, 2010


Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 22 and 24. David Greilsammer, piano and conducting the Suedama Ensemble. Naïve. $16.99.

Mozart: Concerto for Flute and Harp; Andante for Flute and Orchestra, K315; Concerto for Harp and Orchestra, K107/1. Pirmin Grehl, flute; Maria Graf, harp; Bayerisches Kammerorchester Bad Brückenau conducted by Gernot Schulz. Profil. $16.99.

     Mozart’s music has so many meanings and so many levels of appeal that it can survive interpretative extravagances that would sink the works of lesser composers. Unfortunately, this fact sometimes invites performers to try a little too hard to make their Mozart stand out. That seems to be the case with David Greilsammer, whose first CD of Mozart piano concertos focused on early works and presented them with a light and pleasant touch – but whose second, which includes two great works of the composer’s maturity, never quite gets off the ground. It may be that Greilsammer tries to do too much here. He plays piano; leads the Suedama (“Amadeus” spelled backward) Ensemble, which he founded; writes booklet notes; and takes part in an interview included with those notes. But it is the musical interpretation that matters most, and it does not quite work. The chamber group plays beautifully, and the musicians – including Greilsammer himself – even allow themselves a bit of extemporaneous decoration during the performance, which is not canonic but is refreshingly effective. However, Greilsammer could have used a conductor to rein in his enthusiasm a bit. The outer movements of both concertos are so fast-paced that it seems he is in a hurry to get them over with. The notes are right, but the feeling is often wrong. In the deeply felt C minor concerto (No. 24), Greilsammer creates such an anti-Romantic interpretation that he strips away the emotional depth, especially in the finale. In the E-flat concerto (No. 22), when the headlong finale pauses so Mozart can indulge in a slow section that is one of his most gorgeous inspirations, Greilsammer seems to want to get the slow stuff over with so he can plunge back into speed. It is not that Greilsammer cannot play slowly – the Larghetto of No. 24 is quite lovely – but his overall approach here is one of brightness and gaiety that simply does not sit well in these particular works (although it would in other Mozart concertos – No. 15, for example). Greilsammer has some interesting ideas about Mozart, but on this CD he seems somewhat too self-indulgent to present them effectively.

     The presentation of Mozart’s Concerto for Flute and Harp by Pirmin Grehl and Maria Graf, on the other hand, is effective. The soloists are well balanced and their tones well matched, and they have considerable sensitivity to each other’s phrasing and pacing – although Graf tends to dominate Grehl through her sheer sense of style. Gernot Schulz leads the Bayerisches Kammerorchester Bad Brückenau in a subdued, supportive manner that does not intrude on the delicacy of the soloists’ roles, and the result is a lovely rendition of this very unusual double concerto. The oddity here is in the rest of the CD. The entire disc runs less than 47 minutes – less than the length of many LP records in the pre-CD days. And the filler material is peculiar. Instead of one of Mozart’s flute concertos – there is plenty of room for one – the CD includes the Andante that Mozart wrote as an alternative movement for his flute concerto in G, K313. This gives Grehl a brief chance to shine as a soloist on his own, but musically, this is a strange little encore. Graf’s solo work is more extensive and more impressive, but also a real oddity: it is her own transcription for harp of the first of Mozart’s early K107 harpsichord concertos, which are actually his arrangements of sonatas by Johann Christian Bach. So this is an arrangement of an arrangement – and it happens to sound quite lovely as a work for harp and orchestra, although it would be hard to argue that the arrangement will have mass appeal to listeners and Mozart lovers. The oddities of this CD actually extend beyond the music and the disc’s length into the accompanying booklet, whose notes (in their English version) devote three pages to Mozart but three-and-a-half to the orchestra, including a mysterious and never-explained reference to the ensemble’s “involuntary move to Bad Brückenau in 2003 and the associated change of name.” There are a number of fine performances of the Concerto for Flute and Harp, which is the work for which listeners are most likely to want this CD. The disc will bring the most pleasure to fans of Graf, who is a top-notch player; more casual or less focused listeners may feel a bit cheated by the short length of the disc and its other peculiarities.

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