A splendid sequel to the work begun on ECM 1565/66 in 1994: both Dennis Russell Davies - who instigated the project - and Keith Jarrett have since expressed in interviews their conviction that this second set of Mozart piano concertos represents some of their strongest experiences in recording. It's also a testimony to joint action and trust. Collaborators for 20 years now, Jarrett and Davies understand each other's methodologies.
Keith Jarrett, to journalist Larry Alan Kay: "I feel it's some of the best work I've done...I was working in a different way than most interpreters would have worked...Where a traditional interpreter would prepare his 'version' of the work, I didn't have one until the orchestra and I were actually playing. Partly because I've been essentially an improviser for so long, my reflexes are incredibly fast.... There were things happening that were magic. The orchestra was taken by surprise. Dennis was taken by surprise. I was taken by surprise."
"Jarrett justifiably views the performance of Mozart piano concertos as teamwork, " writes Hans-Klaus Jungheinrich. "He does not present orchestra and conductor with a finished conception that he expects them to accept and assimilate. Fine-tuning ensues by way of communicative interplay, in perfect keeping with the artistic fact that the instrumental voices and colours of these concertos have nothing of the schematic, subordinate accompaniment about them. This is genuine give and take, a dialogue among equals."
Jarrett: "One reason Dennis and I work together is that he knows how fast I am, and one of his main strengths is speed. He was actually able to respond with the entire organism of the orchestra to these moments without losing integrity. It was much more like the primary element was listening, rather than playing, which is a jazz sensibility...Sometimes, in complex works with dense orchestral parts, a fast tempo, and a virtuoso situation, everyone has to not listen, everyone has just to play their time." Soloist and orchestral roles are closely interwoven. "It was like a performance. Dennis and I both prefer to do whole takes, rather than those patchy 'let's start at bar 31 and go to bar 33' things. Those make me want to cover my eyes and say, 'Look, get someone to sit in...' Where's the passion in that''"
Keith Jarrett has been reckoning with Mozart's music for most of his life. Indeed, he opened his debut recital, at the age of 7, with Mozart. His playing of the piano concertos as a mature artist, therefore, represents no "crossing over" but, rather a continuation, counterbalanced by his extraordinary improvisational achievement. It is Jarrett's belief that improvisational capacities are imperative for playing and feeling 18th century keyboard music, otherwise "you are missing some giant link. There's a tactile quality missing. When you're an improvisor there's a certain shimmer to the motion of things."After a long period in which he played only jazz - and in which idiom he is a perennial pollwinner - Jarrett resurfaced as an interpretive pianist in 1979, playing 20th century music (of Lou Harrison, Colin McPhee, and Peggy Glanville-Hicks) with the St Paul Chamber Orchestra. In the early 80s he performed Bartók, Barber and Stravinsky, and after 1984 immersed himself more completely in the worlds of classical and baroque music. For ECM New Series he has recorded music of Bach, and Handel, as well as Mozart, plus Shostakovich's Bach-inspired Preludes and Fugues op.87. He has also appeared on Arvo Pärt's history-making album "Tabula Rasa", playing "Fratres" with Gidon Kremer.
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In his liner notes, Jungheinrich suggests that of the great Mozart interpreters of history, Jarrett's approach most closely resembles that of Clara Haskil, who also aimed at "an artlessly straightforward, lucidly-controlled narrative style, while never losing sight of a work's rich complexity." In terms of technical display, Jarrett has nothing to prove, his dexterity as a jazz player having long since outdistanced the competition. As an interpretive pianist, therefore, he eschews all grandstanding: "His wilfulness is more likely to manifest itself in a tendency toward introversion, the consistent renunciation of poses and forced brilliance." So it is in these Mozart performances, where all excesses are reined in and technique serves only the spirit of the composition.
Amongst the well-known piano concertos rounded up on the present collection are two which were crucial in extending the formal and expressive potential of the medium. Of the E flat Major Concerto, often considered Mozart's first unqualified masterpiece, Robert Cowan writes, "No previous concerto placed the soloist on a more equal footing with the orchestra, and none claimed greater musical significance. Here we see Mozart - at 21 - breaking with tradition in order to strengthen it."
The glowering D Minor Concerto similarly helped redefine the genre for a later age; in the 19th century it stood out amongst Mozart's vast body of piano concertos, its "demonic drive" encouraging a view of it as a piece of "Romanticism in the Classical era."
The G Major Concerto, written for favourite pupil Babette Ployer, is sparkling and infinitely amiable, music of the kind that once prompted Aaron Copland to describe Mozart as "the most reasonable of the great composers. The happy balance between flight and control, sensibility and self-discipline, simplicity and sophistication of style is his particular province. Mozart tapped the source from which all music flows, expressing himself with a spontaneity and refinement and breath-taking rightness that has never since been duplicated."
This collection concludes with the auratic Adagio and Fugue K 546, the epitome of funereal music, "a solemn lament in the lower voices followed by a very sophisticated, rigorously constructed fugue - a tribute to J.S. Bach, like the fugue in the finale of the Jupiter Symphony and the figured chorale of the Men in Armour in the 'Magic Flute.' " Composition of the Fugue component preceded the completed work by some five years, this section originally being conceived as a piece for two pianos, and written for Baron van Swieten's Sunday gatherings at the Vienna Imperial Library.Dennis Russell Davies studied piano with Lonny Epstein and Sascha Gorodnitski, and conducting with Jean Morel and Jorge Mester at the Juilliard School. In 1968, together with Luciano Berio, he founded the Juilliard Ensemble, and from 1972 to 1980 was director of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.
Davies has been guest conductor of the symphony orchestras of Vienna, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and St Louis, the Orchestre Colonne Paris, the Orchestre de l'Opera Bastille, and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London, and has regularly directed the symphony orchestras of Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, the Berlin Philharmonic, the Gewandhaus Orchester Leipzig and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande.
In 1980, Davies was appointed general music director of the Stuttgart Opera. From 1987 to 1995 he was music director of both the Beethovenhalle Orchestra Bonn and the Bonn Opera. Concurrently he was also musical director of the Cabrillo Festival California (1975-91).
Since August 1995, he has been principal conductor of the Stuttgarter Kammerorchester, the oldest chamber orchestra in Europe. Dennis Russell Davies is also chief conductor of the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, and musical director of the American Composers Orchestra.
Davies's recording affiliation with ECM dates from 1977, when he recorded Keith Jarrett's composition for piano, "Ritual". He has since conducted music of Pärt, Kancheli, Shostakovich, Schnittke, Penderecki, Hindemith, Britten, Vasks, and Mozart for ECM New Series.
2-CD set includes 32-page three-language booklet with liner notes by Hans-Klaus Jungheinrich and Rob Cowan.