Pianist David Deveau Offers An Intimate Take On Works By Mozart And Beethoven Deveau and the Borromeo String Quartet perform piano concertos by Mozart and Beethoven as chamber music on a new recording. Lloyd Schwartz says the album is "full of feeling and discovery."
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Pianist David Deveau Offers An Intimate Take On Works By Mozart And Beethoven

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Pianist David Deveau Offers An Intimate Take On Works By Mozart And Beethoven

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Music Reviews

Pianist David Deveau Offers An Intimate Take On Works By Mozart And Beethoven

Pianist David Deveau Offers An Intimate Take On Works By Mozart And Beethoven

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Deveau and the Borromeo String Quartet perform piano concertos by Mozart and Beethoven as chamber music on a new recording. Lloyd Schwartz says the album is "full of feeling and discovery."

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. There's a new recording of two familiar concert works, piano concertos by Mozart and Beethoven, that are performed in an unfamiliar way that our classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz finds very exciting. Here's his review.

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LLOYD SCHWARTZ, BYLINE: It's usually a compliment when critics say that performances of big orchestral pieces like symphonies and concertos sound like chamber music. On this new recording by pianist David Deveau and the Borromeo String Quartet, piano concertos by Mozart and Beethoven are played as actual chamber music. And because these performances are so nuanced, so full of feeling and discovery, instead of merely miniaturizing these works, they feel more intimate and go deeper than many standard performances with a full orchestra.

Before the invention of the radio and the phonograph, if you wanted to hear the latest symphony or concerto, you had to play it yourself. A thriving industry arose in which a new work was transcribed for anyone who had a piano or a room big enough to hold a small chamber ensemble. In the case of the two concertos on this new recording, Deveau has also added a double bass to have, as he says, a more orchestral sensibility.

The Piano Concerto In E-flat No. 14 begins one of Mozart's most astonishingly fertile periods in which he practically invented the modern piano concerto. No. 14 is irresistible, tuneful and touching and full of surprising key changes, especially into a minor key, that switch suddenly back and forth between joy and anxiety. And since the original, with its minimal orchestral requirements, is virtually chamber music already, it converts easily into this smaller format.

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SCHWARTZ: Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto is the most intimate and exploratory of his five piano concertos, but it also has heroic elements. The orchestra is usually taken to be the antagonist of the piano, at times even trying to shut it down. But it's the tenderness of the piano that prevails. Deveau says it didn't take much effort to reduce the simpler Mozart score to five parts, but the Beethoven reduction is trickier because there are so many more instruments in the orchestra and more complex musical lines. Deveau edited this score from three different versions that have existed since Beethoven's time. It's hard to forget the rich orchestral textures we relish in this piece to pretend they didn't exist. Yet the tensions are all present in this reduced version. Deveau and the Borromeo players make such perfect partners because they also make perfect adversaries. Deveau's opalescent sound and poignant phrasing contrast vividly with the Borromeo's profound sense of drama.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID DEVEAU AND BORROMEO STRING QUARTET'S "PIANO CONCERTO NO. 4 IN G MAJOR, OP. 58")

SCHWARTZ: In his liner notes, Deveau tells us that it was the composer John Harbison who alerted him to the Beethoven transcriptions. And to express his gratitude, Deveau asked him to compose new cadenzas, those improvisatory passages where the soloist, originally the composer-performer, sails off into his own world. In the Mozart concerto, Deveau plays Mozart's own original cadenzas. Two versions of Beethoven's own cadenza survive. But Deveau plays Harbison's new ones. They give a remarkably 21st-century flavor, Deveau writes, to the themes of 1806.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID DEVEAU AND BORROMEO STRING QUARTET'S "PIANO CONCERTO NO. 4 IN G MAJOR, OP. 58")

SCHWARTZ: To round out the recording, Deveau plays Harbison's early, minute-and-a-half "Anniversary Waltz" and Mozart's searching "Fantasia In C Minor," a short piece he never finished himself. But it's especially refreshing to hear the most familiar pieces on this album in a new light and played so articulately and with such conviction.

GROSS: Lloyd Schwartz teaches in the Creative Writing, MFA program at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He was recently appointed Poet Laureate of Somerville, Mass. He reviewed the CD "David Deveau - Beethoven, Mozart, Harbison," which includes the chamber versions of Mozart and Beethoven concertos with the Borromeo String Quartet.

Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, my guest will be Frans de Waal, who studies primate behavior. His new book is about animal emotions and what they tell us about ourselves. He directs the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. He writes about primate bonding, sharing, resentment, rivalry, sex and murder in his new book and about how he's bonded with some of the primates he studies. I hope you'll join us.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer of digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Therese Madden directed today's show. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID DEVEAU AND BORROMEO STRING QUARTET'S "PIANO CONCERTO NO. 4 IN G MAJOR, OP. 58")

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