I had eagerly anticipated this Genius of Mozart concert since the day the Oxford Philharmonic's 2018 programme was announced last year. Piano Concerto No. 10 for Two Pianos is heard far less frequently in the concert-hall than its quality demands. Of course two soloists have to be paid and two pianos hired. The former difficulty in this case had doubtless been diminished or even removed by the presence as one soloist of Marios Papadopoulos, the Orchestra's Music Director.
Rebecca Evans was born in the same Welsh village as Richard Burton and was a fellow-student of Bryn Terfel at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She's something of a Mozart specialist. Here she sang Ch’io mi scordi di te? [Shall I Forget You?] (K 505), both a supplementary recitative and aria for the opera Idomeneo and a stand-alone piece for Mozart at the piano and an English opera singer of the day. The piece is an attractive one, and unusual in that accompaniment comes from piano as well as orchestra, and Evans sang it strongly and with notable enunciation of the libretto.
As a teenager Mozart formed a virtuoso duo with his older sister, Maria Anna ('Nannerl'), performing widely in Salzburg for the nobility and mercantile class. Yet the only dual-piano work we have connecting the siblings is the Concerto No. 10 for Two Pianos of 1779. Marios Papadopoulos was here playing the one Steinway, and directing from the keyboard, while the other stool was taken by 19-year-old Szuyu Su, who was spotted by Maestro Papadopoulos playing at the 2015 Leeds International Festival Competition. She hails from Taiwan but is studying at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. She travelled to Oxford from the USA just a day or two before the concert.
The orchestra was now swollen to a still modest 33, including two horns, two bassoons, and two oboes. It fulfills a more subsidiary role than it does in many of the 23 single-piano concertos that are original Mozartian compositions; the presence of two soloists is almost bound to mean that orchestral elbow-room will be at a premium. The concerto opens not with the expected melody but the bold gesture of a downward octave plunge, then an upward run, moving on to a soft, rising theme of great loveliness. The opening joint trills from the pianos then unfold into a dialogue between them, as evenly distributed as it is rousing. In the opening movement the music is spacious. The tiny interpolations from first the horns, then Tristan Fry's timpani were delightfully mingled with a number of plucking sections by the first violins. The rum-ti-tum-ti-tum-tum-tum of the twin pianos turned into the intense double cadenza written by Mozart himself.
The andante is patrician in character, touched with a fleeting melancholy at one point in the development, where the minor key intrudes. Yet at other moments there discreet playfulness to the music. It was introduced by clear twin oboes in the tutti introduction, and then Marios Papadopoulos seized the tune while Szuyu Su played elaboratory trills. The finale Rondo had the soloists knowing, despite what must have been strictly limited practice time together, just when to predominate and when to lend support. They traded phrases with each other and the orchestra, and the end came exuberantly.
Piano Concerto No. 24 starts in rather a stern fashion. In contrast with its counterpart from before the interval, the orchestra has a major part to play, and particularly there are elaborately scored passages for woodwind. The two oboes had been prominent earlier in the evening but here they were constantly called upon. I know Emily Pailthorpe, the principal, to be an exceptional player, and the visual contrast in styles between her, all lateral movement and animation, and her colleague Joe Sanders of the Guildhall School of Music and an Oxford stalwart, straight-backed and still, was intriguing. Papadopoulos led us through some stormy passages, then changed gear and despite a sustained rumble from the timpani, ended pianissimo.
The larghetto is simple and unaffected, balm to the anguished spirit after the earlier troubled mood of the allegro. The soloist gave full value to the aristocratic closing section, with only a fussy bassoon disturbing the calm like an over-solicitous waiter clearing the table for the next course. The variations of the finale were taken unhurriedly, the closing bars of the piano seeming to move increasingly into the shadows.
For an encore, Papadopoulos played the famous andante from Piano Concerto No. 21, the melody set against pizzicato arpeggios from cellos and basses. At its end, he acknowledged the audience, hand on heart in the manner of the ballerino at the conclusion of the Grand Pas de Deux in Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker.