Mozart: Piano Concertos 13 & 24 - Helmchen, Nikolic
PentaTone Classics PTC 5186305 (2 discs)
Classical - Orchestral
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 13 in C major K. 415, Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor K. 491
Martin Helmchen (piano)
Netherlands Chamber Orchestra
Gordan Nikolic (conductor)
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Review by John Broggio - November 11, 2007
A stunning début from Martin Helmchen that in its own way is even more impressive than Julia Fischer's was those few years back.
Firstly, a definite nod in the direction of the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra should be made - the direction from Gordon Nikolic; is nothing less than inspired. From a darkly luxuriant texture of the C minor concerto to the brilliantly Beethovenian weight of the C major concerto, all the players are fully alive to the expressive potential in all the music. Special mention must go to the woodwind principals at the gorgeous conclusion to the Larghetto of No.24 but it would be invidious to suggest that their colleagues are not on the same exalted musical level.
Next up is the playing of Helmchen - he can only be compared to the likes of Perahia and not unfavourably so. The delicacy of his touch, richness of tone and the details that he extracts from the piano are a joy to the ear and the soul alike. Make no mistake, for this is no HIP interpretation but far from being a carbon copy of the golden greats of yesteryear - more that Helmchen has captured the spirit but clothed it in modern garb. The one and only criticism I can level is his choice of cadenza for No. 24 - for me, good though he is as a pianist, Lars Vogt's cadenza is not as convincing musically as others have been (it is as though he runs out of ideas for the first movement and then thinks "ah yes, broken octaves - that'll excite people!") Tempi throughout are nigh on ideal, as is the balance between piano and orchestra; the dovetailing and batting about of motifs is very exciting and a wonder to behold.
The sound is every bit as fitting as the playing and one can have no reservations about the piano as it is recorded here. Indeed it is so good, that one completely fails to think about it during the playing and it is only on reflection that it becomes a consideration.
Fantastic stuff & more Mozart please!
Copyright © 2007 John Broggio and HRAudio.net
Review by Graham Williams - April 6, 2008
In March of last year, when Martin Helmchen was a member of the BBC New Generation Artists programme, I attended a concert at the BBC studios in Manchester in which he played Liszt’s 2nd Piano Concerto. On that occasion, I was impressed not just by his panache in the showy virtuoso passages but also by his poetic and sensitive playing in the more reflective passages of the work. Here, in his debut disc for PentaTone, he plays two works of a less technically challenging nature but which require more intellectual acuity and the result is in every way a triumphant success.
From the first few bars of the opening ritornello it is apparent that this performance of K491 is to be a weighty affair and the drama inherent in the music is immediately established. Helmchen’s first entry is surprisingly gentle and restrained, but he quickly moves on to give a beautifully poised performance that lacks nothing in authority, even when compared with the many distinguished versions of this concerto available on CD. The recording vividly captures every detail of Mozart’s orchestration; the richest he had ever employed in a concerto, and it is a real pleasure to be able to savour the superb wind playing of the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra. Martin Helmchen plays a cadenza in the first movement by his friend Lars Vogt lasting 1’47” which, though no worse than many written by other pianists, is still too long. Eric Blom aptly described such cadenzas as “pretentious excrescences”.
It was a particularly happy idea to couple the great C minor concerto K491 with the earlier C major work K415 as the latter has always been something of a Cinderella among the canon of Mozart piano concertos. Martin Helmchen’s spirited performance of this essentially amiable work is a joy from beginning to end, while the deft accompaniment from the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra directed by Gordon Nickolic is a model of its kind. The performance is full of felicities, for example the way in which Helmchen makes the most of the contrast between the doleful C minor episodes in the final Rondeau and the movement’s cheerful opening theme.
The pellucid sound quality of the spacious PentaTone recording adds enormously to one’s enjoyment of these performances and this outstanding disc can be warmly recommended without reservation.
Copyright © 2008 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net
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