Bart van Oort / Fabio Ciofini / Accademia Hermans

Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 20 & 21

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Dutch fortepianist Bart van Oort has released a variety of recordings of Classical-period music (and contemporary music on a modern piano), mostly on small labels. You may like or dislike each individual release, but they're often fresh and indicative of new thinking in how to use old pianos. Here, van Oort offers unusual takes on what are probably Mozart's two most popular piano concertos. Broadly speaking, these readings fall into the group that emphasizes the power of the Viennese fortepiano as compared with what came before it. The historical-instrument group Accademia Hermans under Fabio Ciofini lays out broad, muscular themes, and Van Oort, playing a copy of a 1795 Walter fortepiano by Belgian builder Chris Maene, matches it with big volume (for a fortepiano), sharp attacks, and heavy articulation throughout. The innovations here, however, go beyond the general approach. Van Oort's rhythmic treatments are unusual, and if they don't sit well with you, you might call them bizarre. Sample the opening of the finale of the Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466, where the rhythm of the abrupt figure that affirms the intense restlessness of the first movement is distorted. You might argue that the dramatic effect of this figure depends on its being played rhythmically straight: it seems to be trying to break through what's possible in the periodic structure of Classical-era music. But nobody else has played it this way before, and in general van Oort keeps a good grip on the implications of his unusual beginnings as the movements unfold. He seems to feel that the fortepiano offered not only power but a real soloistic independence, and listeners interested in new developments in fortepiano playing should give this a spin. The sound from the small Italian label La Bottega Discantica is clear and of the right dimensions for van Oort's performance.

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