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David Deveau - Beethoven, Mozart, Harbison

Release Date: 09/21/2018
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30099
Composer:  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart ,  Ludwig van Beethoven ,  John Harbison Performer:  David Deveau ,  Thomas Van Dyck ,  Jessica Bodner Orchestra/Ensemble:  Borromeo String Quartet

Pianist David Deveau enjoys a distinguished career internationally, performing in the US, Canada, the UK, Europe and Asia. His first recording for Steinway, Siegfried Idyll, was critically acclaimed in the New York Times and Gramophone, and was listed as one of the yearís ten best classical albums by the Boston Globe in 2015. Mr. Deveau now brings us intimate chamber versions of Mozartís delightful Piano Concerto No. 14 and Beethovenís lyrical Piano Concerto No. 4.


Recorded March 6-8, 2017 at the Shalin Liu Performance Center, Rockport, Massachusetts.
Producer: Claude Hobson  
Recording Engineer:  Tom Stephenson
Mastering: Tom Stephenson
Read more Technician: Christine Lovgren
Piano: Steinway Model D #586518 (New York)

Executive Producer: Jon Feidner
Art Direction: Jackie Fugere
Design: Cover to Cover Design, Anilda Carrasquillo
Production Assistant: Renée Oakford


The U.S.-based Steinway & Sons attempts to re-create the pianism and the piano environment of an earlier era, and they do well here to examine the large repertory of "concerti a quattro": piano concertos in arrangements for string quartet and orchestra. To hear Mozart's concertos played this way, especially the earlier ones with their lack of independent wind parts, is not unusual. But pianist David CDeveau, the Borromeo String Quartet, and a few added musicians here unearth something rarer: a quartet version of the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58. This spacious work might seem an impossible order for these forces, but the arrangement used stems from Beethoven's own world: Beethoven's patron, Prince Lobkowitz, wanted a presale hearing of the concerto, and Beethoven obliged with the present arrangement. There is debate over whether Beethoven composed the arrangement himself or delegated it, but it is artfully done regardless of the author: not a straight transcription but with string effects, often involving an added viola, that suggest the instrumentation of the full version. Sample the 20-minute first movement, which never becomes texturally monotonous despite the risk. The Mozart Piano Concerto No. 14 in E flat major, K. 449, has the same strengths. The Beethoven concerto features new cadenzas by John Harbison, who is represented by a short solo piano piece of his own. That and the solo piano Mozart Fantasia in C minor, K. 396, seem superfluous to the program, and Deveau's decision to add a bass to his arrangements, especially in the case of the rarely heard Beethoven, is debatable. But his chamber-sized interpretations, on a modern Steinway, are beautifully controlled, and the whole makes an elegant and lively impression even if you disagree in some details. Recommended, and essential for those interested in Beethoven reception.

-- AllMusic Guide

[This disc] juxtaposes chamber arrangements of orchestral works by Beethoven (his fourth piano concerto) and Mozart (his 14th concerto and his c-minor Fantasia), with, interestingly enough, a brief John Harbison piece. (Harbison also wrote the cadenzas for the Beethoven concerto.) This [disc] is of significant academicĖand aesthetic!Ėinterest. Great playing all around, and beautifully recorded in a warm, dry acoustic.

-- CDHotlist

If you were hearing Mozartís K449 and Beethovenís Fourth Concerto for the first time via these reductions for string quintet or sextet and piano, you wouldnít suspect that anythingís amiss. This is partly due to the intense and enlivening contributions of the Borromeo Quartet (and colleagues), matched note by note and point by point by David Deveauís mindful, stylish virtuosity.

The ensemble sustain the Beethoven first-movement ritornelloís broad basic tempo with a degree of note-to-note inflection that more than compensates for the particular tonal qualities of Beethovenís instrumentation (the second subjectís plaintive solo oboe, for example). The finaleís rapid exchanges between piano and strings not only benefit from the elevated chamber interplay resulting from reduced forces but also allow for subtle tempo fluctuations, and for the scurrying bass lines to emerge with refreshing clarity. Listeners will notice how the stringsí fierce projection and focus of the slow movementís declarative unison tuttis provide a foil to Deveauís plaintive reserve.

Nor are the Mozart readings any less intelligently detailed. In the finale, the easy-going repartee between piano and strings yields bracing contrapuntal cogency, while the slow movementís operatic melody lines and relatively modest accompanimental figurations emerge with shapely and meaningful interaction. Composer John Harbisonís cadenzas for the Mozart are thoroughly idiomatic but not so imaginatively wrought as his Beethoven cadenzas, which admittedly venture on occasion into early Brahms/Fauré harmonic territory. Late Fauré, however, appears to be the jumping-off point for Harbisonís gorgeous little Anniversary Waltz, an impression enhanced by Deveauís sensitive performance. I also like his ripe and vocally informed Mozart K396 Fantasia, featuring bass lines that resonate and soar to the heavens. Excellent sound and annotations add to this discís appeal.

-- Jed Distler, Gramophone

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.

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.

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.

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.

-- Lloyd Schwartz, Fresh Air Read less