Can Çakmur, Howard Griffiths / Camerata Schweiz
Mozart: Piano Concerto No.8 in C major, K.246, “Lützow” (Recording Session)

Recording @ Kirche Oberstrass, Zurich, 2021-03-21


2021-03-28 — Original posting



Table of Contents


General Remarks

This is the second instance of a set of “workshop reports“, reports from visits to CD recording sessions: neither media reviews (the music is only just being recorded), nor concert reports: there is no audience, no complete performance, just a rehearsal and a series of takes with at most a full movement in a single “chunk”. See also my posting from 2021-03-18 for more detail.

One should read this as a “teaser” for an ongoing CD recording project. The “end product” will only become available in about a year’s time.


Introduction

Venue, Date(s)Kirche Oberstrass, Zurich, 2021-03-20 / 2021-03-21
Series / TitleOrpheum Foundation: Next Generation Mozart Soloists
Organizer(s)Orpheum Foundation for the Support of Young Artists
Goldmann Public Relations
Related PostingsReviews of concerts organized by the Orpheum Foundation

The Context

I’m honored to be invited to attend recording sessions for a newly launched CD project that the Orpheum Foundation for the Support of Young Artists is initiating. The title of the project is “Next Generation Mozart Soloists“. It involves the recording of (essentially) all of the instrumental concerts by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791). That project will span a duration of around five years. It involves numerous young soloists that the Orpheum Foundation is currently supporting, or who have received support in the past. The session discussed here was part of the recordings for the first CD.


The Organizer

In the first posting of this short series I have written about the Orpheum Foundation for the Support of Young Artists, the organizer and initiator for this recording project. I want to keep this posting short. Therefore, for detail see my posting from 2021-03-18. In that same posting, I have also given an introduction to the 11-CD Project “Next Generation Mozart Soloists” that I referred to above.


The First CD in the Project “Next Generation Mozart Soloists”

The first of 11 CDs in this project covers three concertos:

The three concertos above were all performed with the accompaniment of the Camerata Schweiz (see also Wikipedia) under the direction of Howard Griffiths (*1950, see also Wikipedia). Howard Griffiths is also the Artistic Director of the Orpheum Foundation.


The Artists in This Recording Session

For information on the orchestra, the Camerata Schweiz, as well as on its conductor, Howard Griffiths, see again my preceding posting from 2021-03-18. For all concertos in the first CD recording, the orchestra configuration was identical (6 + 5 violins, 4 violas, 3 cellos, 2 double basses, 2 horns, 2 oboes).

Needless to say that the excellent qualities of the Camerata Schweiz as accompaniment, as well as those of Howard Griffiths’ direction remained the same in all of these recording sessions—I don’t want to duplicate that text here.

Can Çakmur, Piano

The Turkish pianist Can Çakmur (*1997, pronunciation: Djahn Chakmur) grew up in Ankara. During his piano studies, his main teacher—the one who influenced him the most—was Emre Şen (*1973). 2012, while he was still at high school in Ankara, he was accepted to the Schola Cantorum de Paris, where he studied with Marcella Crudeli (*1940). He achieved the Diplôme de Virtuosité with highest honours in 2014. Since then, Can Çakmur has further expanded his experience and scope through encounters with notable musicians such as Alan Weiss (*1950), Arie Vardi (*1937), Claudio Martínez-Mehner (*1970), Leslie Howard (*1948), and Robert D. Levin (*1947).

Can Çakmur still continues his education—currently at the Hochschule für Musik Franz Liszt, Weimar, where he studies with Grigory Gruzman (*1956), while also working privately with Diane Andersen (*1934) in Belgium. As most pianists in his generation, Can Çakmur has participated in several competitions, with success: he was awarded the first prize at the 2017 Scottish International Piano Competition. In the following year he also received the top prize at the 10th Hamamatsu International Piano Competition (2018).

Memories

Can Çakmur’s name wasn’t new to me. He participated in a streamed, joint recital, together with his teacher Grigory Gruzman, and with the Romanian pianist (and fellow student with Gruzman) Alina Bercu (*1990). It was a very picturesque, highly atmospheric event in Weimar, on three pianos (all different!), covering a broad range of music from Bach up to Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev. Back then (May 2020) this almost felt like a miracle in the middle of the pandemic lockdown. I was drawn to this event through Alina Bercu, whom I had previously met in a series of recitals in my area.


The Recording Venue, Setting

For some notes about the recording venue see again my preceding posting from 2021-03-18. The setting was essentially identical, with the one exception of the addition of the concert grand, right in the center of the nave.

This report is from the afternoon session of the second recording day. It was one of 3 sessions devoted to Can Çakmur and the Piano Concerto No.8 in C major, K.246, “Lützow” (1776) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791).

Note: as I’m not really commenting on the interpretation, and as I barely even have heard an entire movement from beginning to end in the course of the session, I refrain from describing & commenting on Mozart’s composition. These works are all very well-known, and descriptions are found in countless places—not the least through the above Wikipedia link.


The Instrument

To my pleasant surprise, I instantly realized that the concert grand was not the “usual” Steinway D-274, but a Bösendorfer 280 VC (Vienna Concert)—the biggest one of the latest generation of Bösendorfer grands. The piano had been placed on a minimal platform, maybe 5 cm above ground level (for acoustic reasons, or maybe to protect the church floor?). The instrument was curated by Gebr. Bachmann Pianos, Wetzikon—a company that I know well, and into which I have the highest trust.

Huge? A Quick Look

I had experienced this grand at several concerts some years ago, and there, it made a bold, solid visual impression on me—though I would not have called it ,”huge” or “monstrous”, as a local newspaper critique did. Sure, it is 6 cm longer than the Steinway D-274—but that difference really is negligible. Indeed, here, I could not have told the difference in size.

After the end of the session, I went up to the instrument, to have a close look. When they are placed on a podium above the audience, concert grands often do look massive, if not sometimes oppressive. Here, however, to my instant and very pleasant surprise, any impression of “huge” or “massive” instantly vanished when I looked into the casing, onto the cast iron frame, the strings and the soundboard. To the contrary, I almost had the impression of “filigree” (I even went to ask the organizer whether this really was a 280 VC!).

What I saw was a (visually!) beautiful, beautiful piece of piano engineering, which can’t just be the result of the instrument being relatively new, cleaned, and in top shape—I almost fell in love with the physical appearance, the esthetics of this instrument.

A Side Note: Instruments for the Upcoming Recordings in This Series

The choice of a Bösendorfer Grand wasn’t a mere coincidence. I is quite telling that the Orpheum Foundation’s managing director, Thomas Pfiffner, started off with an education as pianist before taking on a career in concert / music management. I learned from him that for the upcoming piano concerto recordings in this series, the Foundation hopes to employ as many different brands of concert grands as possible (one brand per CD?): Bechstein, Blüthner, Bösendorfer, Yamaha, Steinway, Shigeru Kawai, Fazioli, Steingraeber & Söhne, and others were mentioned. It will be highly interesting to explore the differences between these many instruments in concertos from the same two decades (1773 – 1791) in Mozart’s life!


Recording Session Experience

Just as a reminder: this is not a concert critique; I’m merely describing my first, unbiased impressions. The session that I attended (Sunday morning) was filled with takes for the second movement, Andante. The first movement (Allegro aperto) had been recorded in the afternoon session of the preceding Saturday. The final movement (Rondeau: Tempo di Menuetto) was recorded during the afternoon session of the final day.

For comments on setup, sound, articulation, playing style, etc. of the orchestra, as well as for remarks on the venue and the acoustics see again my preceding posting from the session on 2021-03-18. From my visits to two preceding recording sessions I was of course familiar with the “acting” of the orchestra—no surprises there. Naturally, it initially took orchestra and conductor a while to “converge”, i.e., to settle on the right tempo, to avoid unrest, unwanted acceleration, etc.—but that was certainly resolved in the first part of the session. The remainder of the three-hour session was filled with takes (some long, some brief), in a seemingly endless series of checks, small corrections / adjustments, based on the meticulous feedback from the recording / sound technician.

Solo Part

Can Çakmur had already done the recording of the first movement on the previous afternoon. The serene Andante presented no technical challenges, so he could approach this movement in a calm, relaxed, reflective manner, listening to the orchestra, patiently working through the takes, the repetitions, etc.

The soloist played his own cadenza. Naturally, this wasn’t spectacular or virtuosic—but very well-fitting into the movement. As far as I could tell, he occasionally did quote some short segments from Mozart’s three existing cadenzas (at least one of them is fragmentary).

Sound

For me as first-time studio session listener it is hard, if not impossible to judge how the result will sound on CD. So, my commenting on balance and sound may be (partially) futile—and I only listened to music from the second movement. Here, in Can Çakmur’s hands, the Bösendorfer sounded warm, mellow, very harmonious, never even a trace aggressive, across the entire range. A very pleasant experience!

Sure, the instrument sounded relatively “big” in this environment, and in front of this orchestra. However, the sound engineer will adjust the balance accordingly. It is impossible to imitate a historic fortepiano on a modern concert grand. However, I would claim that within the realm of modern concert grands, this instrument sounded exceptionally harmonious and well-balanced.

Interestingly, the organizer told me that Can Çakmur originally learned this concerto on a fortepiano (presumably while he was studying with Robert D. Levin).



Conclusions

Based on the segments that I attended, I would claim that all three concertos that were recorded in the course of these four days fulfill very high standards. The Orpheum Foundation will sure present an excellent set of recordings. At first, some people may state “What, another recording of the Mozart concertos?”.

However, with few exceptions (e.g.: multiple piano concertos on the same CD) every concerto will be performed by a different soloist (and different pianos, see above). This ensures that the result will not be uniform (other than by fulfilling similar quality standards), let alone boring. And: at the same time—nomen “Next Generation Mozart Soloists” est omen—the CD set will allow for encounters with a wealth of upcoming / next generation artists. Definitely a CD set to look forward to!



Author:
Rolf Kyburz

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