Friday 22 July 2016

Vivid classicism: Mozart and Mendelssohn piano concertos

Danae Dorken - Mozart, Mendelssohn concertos - ARS Produktion
Mozart and Mendelssohn concertos; Danae Dörken, Royal Northern Sinfonia, Lars Vogt; ARS Produktion
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 19 2016
Star rating: 4.0

Vivid and stylish pairing from this young German pianist

On this disc from ARS Produktion the young German pianist Danae Dörken joins Lars Vogt and the Royal Northern Sinfonia for a programme of piano concertos, Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21 in C KV 467 and Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto No. 2 in D Op. 40. Lars Vogt, himself a distinguished pianist, took over as music director of the Royal Northern Sinfonia in 2015 continuing the orchestra's tradition of working with distinguished player conductors (the violinist Thomas Zehetmair is a previous music director, now conductor laureate, and the violinist Julian Rachlin is principal guest conductor).

I have enjoyed the Royal Northern Sinfonia's performances in the classical symphonic repertoire before, such as their disc of Haydn symphonies on Signum Classics with Rebecca Miller. This performance of one of the most symphonic of Mozart's piano concertos sees them giving a crisp and exciting account of the opening Allegro maestoso, they and Lars Vogt leverage the orchestra's smaller forces, making the balance between wind and strings really count. Throughout the disc the orchestra plays with a vigorously confident sense of style.

Lars Vogt and Danae Dörken - © Giorgia Bertazzi
Lars Vogt and Danae Dörken - © Giorgia Bertazzi
Danae Dörken is not yet 25, born of Greek and German parents in Wuppertal, she currently studies with Lars Vogt. This is her third disc for ARS Produktion and her concerto debut.

She plays the Mozart concerto with a nice sense of style, combining grace with strength and strong articulation. As the first movement progresses were are able to appreciate the pungent wind, and the crisp attack of the strings with their minimal vibrato. Yet there is grace too and a sense of the concerto's scale without feeling grandiose. The second movement opens evocatively with the bleached white tone from the strings in a beautiful opening phrase, which contrasts in timbre and texture with the delicate lyricism of the piano solo. Danae Dörken plays the movement quite intimately, allowing Mozart's music to speak with subtlety. In complete contrast, the final Allegro vivace assai is very perky, full of wit and drama whilst Danae Dörken's playing is strongly articulated with hints of brilliance in the showier bits.

Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto No. 2 is the lesser known of his two mature concertos; written in 1837 for the Birmingham Festival it has been somewhat overshadowed by the first concerto. The first movement opens with a highly romantic and evocative introduction with the piano in dialogue with the orchestra, before the brilliant Allegro appassionato proper starts. There is much to enjoy here, with an overall sense of joy despite occasional darker moments, and Danae Dörken contributes some lovely passagework. As the movement develops, there is an interesting sense of symphonic drama; the concerto comes after Mendelssohn's fourth and fifth symphonies, and before the completion of the third (the numbering is not chronological). The Adagio middle movement is linked to the first with an interesting slow transition which leads to a movement full of poetic lyricism, featuring playing of some delicacy from Danae Dörken. The highly dramatic introduction of the Finale almost burst in unannounced on the end of the Adagio. This scherzando allows Danae Dörken to show of some very brilliant playing, often highly articulated. The performance is full of delightful details, but both Lars Vogt and Danae Dörken give the movement a great sense of flow. The concerto is not perhaps as immediately winning as the well-known violin concerto, but it is full of moments which make it well worth exploring.

This is a finely stylish disc with performances which really hold the attention and bring out sense of drama in both works. Danae Dörken, Lars Vogt and the orchestra give a sense of classical poise to the Mozart whilst retaining an enthralling vividness, and they bring out the way the Mendelssohn concerto sits on the cusp between classicism and romanticism. It would be nice to think that they might go back into the studio to give us another Mozart/Mendelssohn pairing.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) - Piano Concerto No. 21 (1785)
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) - Piano Concerto No. 2 (1837)
Danae Dörken (piano)
Royal Northern Sinfonia
Lars Vogt (conductor)
Recorded Sage Gateshead 2014
ARS Produktion ARS 38 210 1CD [51.09]
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