Mozart: Piano Concertos No. 12 in A major K. 414 & No. 13 in C major K. 415
Karin Kei Nagano, piano; Cecilia String Quartet
Analekta AN2 8765 (51 m)
Is it in the genes? No, but genes play a major role in the creation of musical talent, especially so in the case of 15-year-old Karin Kei Nagano. Her father, Kent Nagano, has been the music director of the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal since 2006 and recently renewed his contract until 2020. Karin’s mother, Mari Kodama, is herself a fine pianist with an international reputation. Against this background, it is not entirely surprising that the daughter of this gifted couple would show some exceptional musical talent.
And indeed she has. Karin won first prize at the Anton Rubinstein International Competition, the Paris International Scriabin Competition, and the Berlin International Competition. She has performed extensively in Europe to rave reviews.
Now comes her first commercial recording. In her choice of repertoire she has been well-advised. These two early Mozart piano concertos allow her to demonstrate superior technical skill and consummate musicianship. But the big surprise is the maturity of her playing. Her Mozart is light and playful as befits her age, but it is also subtle and sophisticated in its phrasing. Karin Kei Nagano is not only a gifted daughter of world-class musicians; she is also a fine artist in her own right.
These two Mozart concertos were composed for keyboard solo with a small orchestra of strings and winds. But Mozart also approved alternate versions with just a string quartet, and that is the way they are played here. As collaborators, Analekta has chosen the fine young Cecilia String Quartet. They took first prize at the Banff International String Quartet Competition in 2010, and are now the BMO Ensemble in Residence at the University of Toronto. The quartet plays with style and enthusiasm, although the sound engineers might have given them a little more weight and presence to balance Ms. Nagano’s concert grand.
Speaking of style, it seems strange the Cecilia String Quartet plays in an historically informed manner – lots of open strings, no vibrato on long notes, and so on – when the keyboard is not a period instrument. To my ears this is a mixture of styles that makes no sense.