Last week I was in Cerne Abbas, Dorset, for the Gaudier Ensemble’s annual festival of chamber music in the village church. I think I have played in 27 of the festivals. Of course, the pandemic blew a two-year hole in proceedings and this was my first visit since 2019.
One of the works I was performing this year was Mozart’s glorious piano concerto in A major K488, a work which seems to be on everyone’s Desert Island Discs list. I lost count of the number of people who told me, ‘I love this piece’.
Not many Mozart concertos can be performed with chamber forces – many require trumpets and timpani, and lots of the concertos call for flute, two oboes, two bassoons and two horns (or permutations of the above). Mozart himself suggested that three of the concertos, K413-15, could be done with string quartet if no orchestra was available, but many of the later concertos have elaborate wind parts which cannot be left out. For example, the A major concerto involves the pianist in intricate dialogue with the wind players, featuring clarinets which Mozart didn’t often use in his piano concertos. Thus it was an obvious choice for the Gaudier Ensemble whose founder Richard Hosford is such a fine clarinettist.
We played the piece with single strings, and needed an only slightly augmented wind section – K488 calls for flute, two clarinets, two bassoons and two horns (but no brass or drums). Ordinarily, the wind section is at the back of a symphony orchestra, and in a piano concerto the piano is at the very front, which often means that the wind can’t hear (or even see) the pianist properly and vice versa. This is disappointing if one has imagined a crisp interplay. Therefore it was a treat to perform the piece as we did last Friday with the wind players standing right behind me on stage (see photo of rehearsal). Never have I heard the wind parts so clearly or been so energised by the exchange between us.