Mozart and Clementi Piano Concertos

Born four months before his illustrious father died, Franz Xaver Mozart (1791-1844) felt pressured to excel as a musician. His mother always called him Wolfgang, and, after studying with such luminaries as Salieri and Hummel, he toured for a while under the name W.A. Mozart Jr. Perhaps it was unwise for him to invite comparisons in this way, and yet being his father’s son unquestionably opened doors to him. Two centuries later, we may acknowledge that the apple fell some distance from the tree, but it was nonetheless tasty. The British pianist Howard Shelley, an indefatigable champion of neglected scores, offers vivacious readings of Franz Xaver’s two piano concertos, warmly abetted by the Sinfonieorchester St. Gallen. Both pieces display firm craftsmanship, passages of real inventiveness, and touches of poignant melancholy, even if they never rival the subtle genius of his father’s concertos, from which they clearly drew inspiration. What’s more, his oeuvre shows growth; his Second Concerto, from 1818, moves into the post-Classical realm, hinting that Chopin lies not far ahead. Filling out this CD is the bustling C-major Concerto by Mozart’s rival pianist-composer Muzio Clementi (1752-1832), a genial work brimming with fluff and fleet-fingered figuration. Shelley may reveal overlooked masterpieces here, but his winning interpretations of these works from “the Mozart circle” are bound to delight.

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