Thursday, 26 January 2017

Maria João Pires

Jascha Heifetz once claimed that he found Mozart “the most challenging” composer to play. It's true that Mozart's music is often somewhat chameleon, usually elegant and usually with strange twists in the harmonies that differentiate much of Mozart's music from the routine classics of the late eighteenth century. When it comes to Mozart's piano concertos, I feel that two supreme executants stand out: Clara Haskil, and Maria João Pires. I have just been listening to Pires in a handful of Mozart concertos that she recorded with Claudio Abbado over a period of some years, with various orchestras. In one word: Pires' performances are superb (as is the partnership with Abbado).

Pires, who is now in her early 70s and still playing superbly, has had a low-key career (deliberately, once suspects). She does not like solo recitals, and has expressed the view that what she enjoys most is “just making music with a few friends for a small audience”. Like Clara Haskil with Arthur Grumiaux, Pires enjoyed a long musical relationship with a violinist, Augustin Dumay, and the pair made many prized recordings of duo sonatas by Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms. I think Brahms is the most “contemporary” composer that Pires tackles; apart from Chopin, her predilection is for Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert.

“It is very important for me to know that it is possible to express something without doing too much”, Pires says. Her Mozart playing certainly reflects the same elegant simplicity and sincerity as that of Haskil. In Mozart, her elegant simplicity is matched by Abbado's elegance and sophistication and the results are enormously satisfying. Looking at my large collection of recordings of Mozart piano concertos, I really only need Haskil and Pires.

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