Where shall I start? With the beauty of the piece? With my excitement over the first occasion to listen to one of my favourite pianists? Maria Joao Pires. Born in Lisbon in 1944. She doesn’t make much fuss about herself. “The performer is not so important”, she often said in interviews. The music is. “Music is the truth about the world that we do not know,” she said at her 70th birthday in an interview with the German weekly “Die Zeit”. She has studied Buddhism, and the way she plays Mozart is… elevating.
Relishing every note, every bar
Yesterday she performed Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K. 488 at the Philharmonie de Luxembourg. The performer is not important? Oh yes, the performer is important if his name is Maria Joao Pires. She has recorded the concerto in 2003, and the way she played it yesterday night together with an ebullient Scottish Chamber Orchestra made me happy. Perfectly happy. Nothing less. I closed my eyes during the concert and floated away, no thoughts, nothing but waves of emotions, relishing every note, every bar of this piece that reflects so much of Mozart’s personality. At times he was radiant, bright. Playful, upbeat. At others pensive, serious. Desperate, gloomy.
The bright side dominates in this composition, and Maria Joao Pires with her masterful and sensitive touch lets it shine. A major – Mozart apparently associated the key with the perfect sound, a warm and glowing key. “The whole first […] movement breathes a happy, joyful harmony”, the German music critic Werner Oehlmann once wrote. The second movement expresses a hidden sadness in F sharp minor, but the somber melody is of an exquisite beauty. The third movement finally – an honest merriment, a bouquet of spring flowers plucked on a country road.
Hail to the clarinets
Mozart replaced the oboes by clarinets, which gives the concerto a darker coloration, especially in the second movement. He made a note for anyone who would care to perform it: “The Concerto in A includes two clarinets. If you should not have two clarinetists at your court, a good copyist could transpose these parts into the appropriate keys in which the first part is played by a violin and the second part by a viola.”
Mozart started to write the piece in 1784, set it aside for a while and finished it in March 1786, the year of the premiere of his opera “Le Nozze di Figaro”. It was one of the last piano concertos he wrote. Four more would follow. None of the four would be published let alone performed publicly before Mozart’s death. And neither would K. 488. Did Mozart ever hear it in a private performance? We don’t know. But I heard it! Thank you, Maria.
© Charles Thibo