Martin Helmchen / Gordan Nikolic / Netherlands Chamber Orchestra

Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 15 & 27

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The Mozart readings of German pianist Martin Helmchen have a reserved quality that at first hearing makes them seem overly careful and by the book. The dynamic range of the whole is not great, and Helmchen, though he plays a modern piano, favors the small ensemble and the transparent textures of the historical-performance movement. But focus a bit more closely and their particular characters emerge. On this release, Helmchen's second of Mozart concertos, Helmchen differentiates the two concertos substantially rather than applying a standard Mozart concerto mode, and for this alone the album is worth hearing. In the lovely performance of the Piano Concerto No. 15 in B flat major, K. 450, Helmchen adopts an almost liquid texture, focusing on the spaces between the notes. Most unusual is the Piano Concerto No. 27 in B flat major, K. 595, where Helmchen rejects the supposedly death-haunted sort of innocent transcendence loaded onto this work by the Romantics. Instead, in his hands, Mozart is depicted as having absolutely no plans to die, but rather as ready for the innovations that would have made him into a post-Classical composer had he lived a few more years. The harmonically adventurous development section of the first movement is not treated as some quietly mystical experience, but is given a full-blooded reading suggesting Beethovenian dimensions. The finale here doesn't quite work: the limpid rondo theme seems to come out of nowhere in this generally heavier reading. But Helmchen's reading is consistently absorbing, and he's plainly a young Mozartian to watch. PentaTone's sound is awesomely transparent.

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