A new concert season has begun and I am glad to be back at the Philharmonie de Luxembourg for many wonderful evenings with delightful music. The first concert I attended featured four quite special works in a row: Bela Bartok’s Romanian Dances, arranged for strings, Felix Mendelssohn’s very first violin concerto (in D minor), again arranged for strings, Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s beautiful Serenade for Strings and finally the work I will write about today: Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 6 in B flat major, K. 238. Wow! What a programme! What an evening!
Fresh voices from Belgium
But let’s start with the performing orchestra, because this is highly interesting! Fresh voices were heard last night: The Young Belgian Strings under Dirk van de Moortel performed with Zala Kravos (piano) and Lorenzo Gatto (violin). The Young Belgian Strings is a chamber orchestra composed of 21 young talents from the different string sections of all the Royal Conservatories and Music Schools of Belgium. It wants to give the students “the opportunity […] to share their experiences, to develop their skills, to perform at the most prestigious international concert halls and to prepare for a future career in one of the great orchestras of the world.”
The 15-year-old Zala Kravos is a rising Luxembourg pianist of Slovenian descent. At the age of five, she started to play the piano. A year later she entered the Conservatory of Luxembourg. From 2012 to 2016, she studied at the Chapelle Musicale Reine Elisabeth in Brussels, in the piano section headed by Maria Joao Pires. Lorenzo Gatto again is a young Belgian who started playing the violin at the age of five with van de Moortel and graduated at only 17 from the Brussels Royal Conservatory of Music. Young people, gifted people and a common passion!
A piece for the Salzburg carnival
Now, is it a coincidence that these young musicians presented one of the earliest works of Mendelssohn – he composed that concerto at the age of 13 – and one of the first piano concertos that Mozart wrote? Mozart composed K. 238 in 1776, at the age of 20, while he served the Salzburg Prince-Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo. However, as Oxford Music Online explains, Mozart’s “rejection of court musical life was transparent. He continued to compose church music, the primary duty of all Salzburg composers, but with little enthusiasm. […] Instead, Mozart established himself as the chief composer in Salzburg of instrumental and secular vocal music.” Among others he wrote in Salzburg four violin concertos and four keyboard concertos.
Most likely Mozart’s enthusiasm for instrumental music, which in many cases he wrote for private patrons, was encouraged by his father Leopold, who had been the best known local composer of instrumental music at the culmination point of his career. The concerto’s premiere took place during the 1776 carnival season, with Mozart himself at the keyboard.
Prominent lively horns
Piano Concerto No. 6 was composed for pianoforte, two oboes or flutes, two horns and a string orchestra and written in three movements: Allegro aperto, Andante and Rondeau (Tempo di Menuetto). There is a very nice recording of Mozart’s Piano Concertos No. 5, 6 and 8 by Mitsuko Uchida that I warmly recommend. Uchida’s recording is the scale against which I measure other pianists’ performance since it comes as close to my sense of perfection as possible.
Formally the concerto’s structure is aligned on its predecessor’s (K. 175), with its sonata form opening movement and rondo* finale. John Mangum, the LA Philharmonic Association’s Program Designer, adds that the composer “introduces some interesting touches of orchestration right at the outset, with the lively writing for the horns, something that returns in the finale. The refined slow movement, with its sighing flutes and oboes, its stream of melody, and its gentle but poignant harmonic shifts, shows the young Mozart at his finest, hinting at the expressive profundities of his future concertos.”
The arrangement for strings alone I heard yesterday was crafted in 1807 by the German composer and conductor Ignaz Lachner. The Young Belgian Strings were not only up to the challenge, they were really, really good considering that these musicians are still students and considering that this ensemble is not a permanent structure. Their enthusiasm was infectious and the audience rewarded them with sustained and well-deserved applause.
The pianist Zala Kravos rushed at times through the first movement and this might have been due to a certain nervosity. Who could blame her? HRH the Hereditary Grand-Duke Guillaume and his wife were sitting in the sixth row. However the andante slowed Mrs. Kravos down and she went through the other two movements in the appropriate tempo, perfectly at ease and with a stunning degree of assurance. Bravo, bravissimo!
© Charles Thibo