Monday, November 19, 2012

In review--Mozart's Starling

Kristian Bezuidenhout
Freiburger Barockorchester
Mozart Piano Concertos, K. 453 & 482
Harmonia Mundi

Within the past 48 hours, I learned that Mozart had a pet starling who he taught to sing and that the music he taught the bird to sing was Mozart’s Piano concerto K. 253.  The bird, like most of us humans could not grasp the complexities of Mozart’s compositions, much less sing it perfectly.  However, the famous Austrian composer’s student Fräulein Babette had no trouble learning the delightful concerto and performed it at a private concert in Vienna.  According to the liner notes, Mozart decided to forge a career as a freelance musician, composing for aristocratic families, performing in private homes, and teaching piano.  While this might sound arduous to a modern pianist/composer, this allowed Mozart freedom to explore his virtuosity and innovative ideas without an archbishop or emperor breathing over his shoulder.

We learn some wonderful tidbits on Mozart Piano Concertos, K. 253 and 482 with Kristian Bezuidenhout on keyboards and Freiburger Barockorchester with Petra Müllejans on first violin.  First, we learn that classical musicians do improvise or at least Mozart did.  We learn that Mozart loved birds, not only is pet starling, but also later his Papageno character in Magic Flute.  And oddly, an interlude that’s three-quarters of the way on Piano Concerto, No. 22, final movement, sounds like something John Coltrane cooked up, not that jazz existed in the 18th century when Mozart improvised and innovated.

With these enchanting piano concertos, Mozart explored sonorities, timbre, and mood swings.  It’s not uncommon for the first movement of a concerto to dance, sing, and lift up its giddy feet (and with Mozart this is often the case), then to follow that delight with the solemn second movement.  However, the second movements on both concertos border on grief and radiate a melancholic beauty.  The second movement of K. 482 features ethereal woodwinds over lamenting strings.  This movement stands alone as relaxation music and would feel at home in a massage practice.  However, do not play the final movement for massage patients unless you want them to leap of the table and start dancing.  This is what I mean by mood swings.

The recording itself sounds crystal clear over headphones. The instruments immerse every bodily cell in sheer delight.  I’m not familiar with these concertos so I can’t give details about liberties the musicians took with their interpretation. But, I enjoy this interpretation and all the heart and soul the musicians put into this performance.  Perhaps, if Mozart’s starling existed today, it would learn to sing the piano concerto from this marvelous recording.  And if Mozart existed in our time, I imagine he would hang out in the jazz clubs where musicians enjoy liberties and don’t worry about archbishops and emperors’ taste in music.

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