Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Rondo in A major for Piano & Orchestra, K.386

Media Review / Listening Diary 2014-04-08


2014-04-08 — Original posting (on Blogger)
2014-11-11 — Re-posting as is (WordPress), added YouTube recording with Kristian Bezuidenhout
2016-07-19 — Brushed up for better readability


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791): Rondo in A major for Piano & Orchestra, K.386

I was inspired to this post by Kristian Bezuidenhout‘s new recording below. However, this note covers only the Rondo in A major, K.386. I’ll discuss the two piano concerts on this CD in a larger context, in separate posts. These are the concerti in G major, K.453 and in E♭ major, K.482. The Rondo K.386 is also included with two other CD sets in my collection:

Clara Haskil, Bernhard Paumgartner

Haskil spielt Mozart, Haskil/Paumgartner/Grumiaux/Fricsay/Sacher, CD cover

Haskil plays Mozart
Famous piano concertos, sonatas for piano and violin, compositions for piano solo

Clara Haskil, Bernhard Paumgartner, Wiener Symphoniker
Arthur Grumiaux, Ferenc Fricsay, Paul Sacher, Berliner Philharmoniker & others

DGG 442 9701 (6 CDs, mono / stereo); ℗ 1954 – 1961 / © 2007
track listing 8 pp., d

Haskil spielt Mozart, Haskil/Paumgartner/Grumiaux/Fricsay/Sacher, UPC-A barcode
amazon media link
spacer

Vladimir Ashkenazy, István Kertesz

Mozart: The Piano Concertos, Ashkenazy, CD cover

Mozart: The Piano Concertos

Vladimir Ashkenazy, István Kertesz, London Symphony Orchestra
Philharmonia Orchestra & others

London 443 727-2 (10 CDs, stereo); ℗ 1966 – 1988 / © 1995
booklet 54 pp., e/f/d/i

Mozart: The Piano Concertos, Ashkenazy, UPC-A barcode
amazon media link
spacer

Kristian Bezuidenhout, Petra Müllejans

Mozart: Piano concertos K.453 & 482, Bezuidenhout/Müllejans, CD cover

Mozart: Piano concertos K.453 & 482

Kristian Bezuidenhout, Petra MüllejansFreiburger Barockorchester

harmonia mundi HMC 902147 (CD, stereo); ℗ 2012
booklet 32 pp., f/e/d

Mozart: Piano concertos K.453 & 482, Bezuidenhout/Müllejans, EAN-13 barcode
amazon media link
spacer

The Composition

The history of Mozart’s Rondo in A major for piano and orchestra, K.386, is somewhat odd / unfortunate. The composition was not originally published. Constanze Mozart sold the manuscript. Thereafter, the manuscript was split up, and parts of the composition got scattered. People long believed that the composition was left incomplete, with the last part missing entirely. Other sections only seemed available as a piano transcript from 1838. Only in 1980, Alan Tyson rediscovered the last three sheets (5.5 pages) in the British Library.

Up to that point, there had been various attempts to complete / reconstruct the complete composition; I suspect that both Clara Haskil (1955) and Vladimir Ashkenazy (1966) play Alfred Einstein‘s reconstruction. It’s not bad, quite “Mozartian”. However, I sense (particularly after listening to Bezuidenhout’s recording, of course) that in that reconstruction the proportions are not “right”. The coda is definitely short. It was possibly not known how many bars / pages were missing. Alternatively and understandably, the reconstructors did not dare adding too much of their own invention to Mozart’s composition. Of course, one cannot blame this on the early performing artists (Haskil, Ashkenazy). Though, remember: even what Kristian Bezuidenhout is playing is in parts a reconstruction from the piano transcript.

A Motif Re-Used by Ignacy Paderewski?

Mozart: Rondo for piano & orchestra K.386, theme
Paderewski: Menuet célèbre, theme

Just a brief note on the composition. It immediately occurred to me that there is a striking resemblance between the beginning of the main theme
and the famous Minuet in G (a.k.a. “Menuet à l’antique” or “Menuet célèbre”) by Ignacy Paderewski () from his 6 Humoresques de concert, op.14:
Sure, the key and the rhythm different, but I still asked myself whether Paderewski took the idea from Mozart’s composition? In any case, both compositions have a potential to turn into “earworms”. With this, one may indeed get the feeling that K.386 is a composition oF minor value. Especially considering the incomplete version of the Rondo as performed before 1980. An excuse for Paderewski to “steal” the idea? This also perhaps explains why other artists did not include K.386 when recording all of Mozart’s piano concertos.


The Interpretations

About the above interpretations:

Clara Haskil / Bernhard Paumgartner / Wiener Symphoniker

Clara Haskil recorded the Rondo in 1955, with Bernhard Paumgartner directing the Wiener Symphoniker. This is a mono recording, with its usual limitations in sound quality and transparency. The piano is a little (too) inconspicuous. However, it is good enough to present Clara Haskil’s lucid, vivid playing; it’s not error-free, but still excellent for those days. One should keep in mind that this is probably Albert Einstein’s reconstruction from Mozart’s incomplete original. It lacks the last 5.5 pages. Sure, the recording also shows its age. The orchestra plays rather / very broad, way too “thick”, too much legato / romantic in current terms. Also, unfortunately, Clara Haskil does not play a cadenza in bar 193 (fermata and clear re-entry after a free cadenza). The tempo here is around 1/4 = 64.

Rating: 3 — duration: 7’58”

Vladimir Ashkenazy / István Kertesz / London Symphony Orchestra

Vladimir Ashkenazys recording dates from 1966. The soloist is accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra, directed by István Kertesz. As far as I can see, Ashkenazy uses the same reconstruction / version as Haskil / Paumgartner. The recording features better acoustic balance, in stereo, of course. The articulation in the orchestra is lighter, and the musicians use less legato than with the Wiener Symphoniker. Ashkenazy does play a good, though short cadenza at bar 193. The downside in this recording to me is in the piano part. The playing is correct, but far too harmless and uniform, lacking pretty much all vitality and emotion. This makes the movement rather boring / tiring. Too bad: Ashkenazy could do better, I’m sure! The tempo is roughly the same as with Clara Haskil (1/4 = 64).

Rating: 3 — duration: 8’22”

Kristian Bezuidenhout / Petra Müllejans / Freiburger Barockorchester

Finally, the reason for this posting is the latest recording of the Rondo, from 2012. It is performed by Kristian Bezuidenhout, with the Freiburger Barockorchester under the direction of Petra Müllejans.

Instruments

Here’s another example of the fruitful cooperation between Kristian Bezuidenhout and Petra Müllejans, this time with orchestra. For a related post see my post “Listening Diary 2014-04-05“. I will discuss the two piano concerts on the above CD in upcoming posts.

This recording is an entirely different world. Comparing it with the ones above is almost unfair, for several reasons. For one, it includes the newly discovered manuscript (45 bars). More importantly, Kristian Bezuidenhout is playing a fortepiano by Paul McNulty (Divisov, CZ, 2009). This is a replica of an instrument by Anton Walter & Sohn, Vienna (1805). Clearly, trhese are my favorite fortepianos for early classical music. They feature a much wider spectrum of sound colors than any modern concert grand. Also the orchestra under Petra Müllejans is playing on period instruments or replicas. They use proper, historically informed techniques (little or no vibrato, baroque bows, “light” articulation, etc.).

Interpretation

On top of all this, the artists had a fresh look at the tempo. They moved away from the traditional, heavy / slow pace, playing at 1/4 = 74. That is substantially faster, and completely appropriate for an Allegretto. The orchestra is much smaller here. On top of that, p sections are played by a concertino only, making those parts sound like chamber music.

Bezuidenhout using the moderator to soften / attenuate the sound reinforces that impression. Throughout the composition, Bezuidenhout is using the fortepiano as (discreet) continuo instrument. All this completely alters the picture. It turns this composition from an almost boring earworm into a refreshing, lively, swinging (!) Rondo! With the newly discovered section, the movement now has two fermatas where obviously a cadenza is expected. Needless to say that Bezuidenhout seizes these opportunities for two very nice, well-adapted solos. He also adds extra ornaments in repeated sections.

Rating: 5 — duration: 9’20”

Kristian Bezuidenhout does not have any real competition here. To me, his recording is the clear winner!


Addendum:

On YouTube, one could find a video from a concert performance in the Schlosstheater Schwetzingen. It featured the piano concerto in E♭ major, K.482, with Kristian Bezuidenhout and Petra Müllejans directing the Freiburger Barockorchester. The above Rondo in A, K.386, was an encore (starting at around 36′). The slow movement (Andante cantabile) from the piano sonata in C, K.330, followed. The concerto performance is pretty much what I discuss above, except that it’s live. Also, on the stage of that small theater, the orchestra was not arranged the same as in the above recording.  That video is no longer available.


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