Given the magical collaboration between pianist Janina Fialkowska and the Chamber Players of Canada on the Chopin piano concertos a few years ago, I expected a lot from their just-released Mozart disc. This amazing album exceeds those expectations.
JANINA FIALKOWSKA & CHAMBER PLAYERS OF CANADA
Mozart, Concertos 13 & 14 (ATMA Classique)
One of the many charms of Mozart’s music is its transparency. This is also the biggest challenge for any interpreter: push it, and the interpretation sounds forced or contrived; take it easy, and the result sounds limp or bland.
Janina Fialkowka has built her career on finding this elusive balance between power and lyricism — and I wonder if she has ever sounded finer than in this new album.
The image of the tightrope walker on the album cover is clearly no coincidence.
The pianist’s fingers produce a pearly sound that is clear and present, yet never strident or monotonous. Her pacing and phrasing are superb — the music has movement but it’s never rushed.
If someone were to ask what I think Mozart should sound like at a modern piano, I would have to say, here it is.
Fialkowska gets equally stellar backup from the Chamber Players of Canada, an occasional group of chamber musicians in this instance made up of Toronto Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Jonathan Crow, violinist Manuela Milani, violist Guylaine Lemaire, cellist (and the group’s leader) Julian Armour and double-bassist Murielle Bruneau.
Because this is a string quartet with an extra touch of grunt from the bass, these concertos become chamber music, further filling the music with light and air.
The arrangements of the two concerti — No. 13 in C Major, K415, and No. 14 in E-flat Major, K449, are Mozart’s own. As Armour mentions in his excellent booklet notes, Mozart tried to pre-empt a cottage industry that created transcriptions of popular music for home use, depriving the original composer of publication revenue.
Music piracy is clearly not a new problem.
But exceptional performances like these have always been rare, so grab an album and enjoy.
The 48 minutes occupied by the two concerti are filled out with a charming take by Fialkowska alone on the Variations for Piano on “Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman” (a.k.a. Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star), K265 and with a light-as-air rendition of the “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” Serenade No. 13 in G Major, K265, by the string players.
You can find out more, and listen to samples here.
Here is the promotional video for the album, made during the recording sessions at Ottawa’s Southminster United Church way back in February 2011. We hear the Andantino movement from the E-flat Major concerto: