Length: c. 30 minutes
Orchestration: flute, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings, and solo piano
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: November 16, 1961, with soloist Leon Fleisher, Walter Hendl conducting
The undisputable genius of Mozart has blessed us with a wealth of musical treasures, but very few genres are so richly stocked as the piano concerto. Even if we begin the inventory with No. 9, and pass over No. 10 (which calls for two pianos), there are 17 mature examples of this hybrid form in the Mozart catalog, matching or exceeding the storehouse of standard symphonies, quartets, sonatas, and operas by the Salzburg-born master.
The synthesis of symphonic style, solo display, and operatic characterization in these works makes them difficult to match as the idealized realization of the Classical work of art. Balancing beauty and nobility of utterance with the emotional range of expressive melodic contours that speak volumes without the need for the specifics of any text, these scores provide us with an unparalleled opportunity to experience the miracle of Mozart, especially when directed from the keyboard as in this week’s performances.
Among his piano concertos, No. 25 (the last of three such works in the key of C major) ranks high on the list for its sublime integration of the composer’s manifold gifts. The opening is marked maestoso, but numerous other qualities beyond mere majesty are soon apparent. The swings to the minor mode bring twinges of uncertainty and hesitation to the otherwise heroic scenario being depicted, albeit wordlessly. Ample use of the wind instruments reminds us of Mozart’s amazing gift for orchestration, not just in the mercurial opening movement, but throughout the concerto. Mozart left us no cadenza for the first movement, which allows soloists to choose one by another performer, or – as in this case – to prepare and perform their own.
Contrast is an essential element in Mozart’s arsenal, and the second movement of this concerto provides ample demonstration of this. After the discursive and extended opening movement, the lyrical centerpiece of the concerto remains aloof and eloquent, an oasis of calm reflection in which the extreme registers of the piano are explored and exploited.
Echoing standard practice in opening movements, Mozart begins the finale with a full statement of themes by the orchestra. As usual in Mozart’s concerto finales, the ensuing scenario is disrupted by surprises along the way. In that early masterwork, Concerto No. 9, a 1777 product of his Salzburg years, Mozart was inspired to interrupt the finale with an otherworldly minuet. He resists that temptation here, but supplies plenty of pomp to round off the work’s grand opening pages.
— Dennis Bade is Associate Director of Publications for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.