Imagine for one minute that you are a concert pianist and you sit down at the piano to play in a dress rehearsal with an audience. The orchestra start to play a Mozart piano concerto, as they begin you realise that you have prepared the wrong concerto. You can see from the youtube clip below this is exactly what happened to the Portuguese pianist Maria Joao Pires a few years ago. However, fortunately Pires did have the Piano Concerto No 20 in D minor in her repertoire and although not mentally prepared to play it, after the initial shock, she manages to switch with grace and perform as though it was always meant to be. Lesser pianists might have crumbled but Pires is such a consummate professional, clearly with an unbelievable memory which is perhaps what makes her the great pianist that she is.
The recording I recommend this week is Maria Joao Pires playing the Mozart Piano Concertos No 20 in D minor and No 27 in Bb major conducted by Claudio Abbado.
Mozart entered Piano Concerto No 20 in D minor into his catalogue on February 10th 1785 and performed the solo the next day in Vienna. This was the only Mozart concerto that Beethoven ever played in public, performing it at a memorial concert following the composer's death in 1795, improvising the famous cadenza that he then wrote down for the piece. The concerto is one of Mozart's greatest works and it really established D minor as one of the darkest of keys which he uses to great effect in the terrifying opening of Don Giovanni or the Lacrimosa from the Requiem. All Mozart's music is beautiful but this is one of the rare occasions that he combines beauty with an underlying dark tragedy and as a result of this work and a handful of others it has been suggested that he was the earliest great romantic composer.
Piano Concerto No 27 in Bb major was the last one he wrote and when he performed it on 4th March 1791 it was to be the last public performance he gave before his death nine months later. Strangely he wrote it for a much smaller orchestra, minimalist by Mozart's standards and the movement headings are reduced to single words - Allegro, Larghetto, Allegro. Some say that this combined with the inward looking nature of the work is a sign that Mozart was aware of his demise. Whether that was the case, or whether it was the start of a new phase in Mozart's output, we will never know. Whatever, these are two very beautiful concertos.