Víkingur Ólafsson Mozart 24 with the Philharmonia at the BBC Proms 2021

Víkingur Ólafsson’s sizzling performance of Mozart Piano Concerto No.24 needs a quick noting down in the journal.

The detail in Víkingur Ólafsson’s playing itself I enjoyed most was most evident in the first movement where the piano part wasn’t always the dominant voice. That meant we got to hear alternative or ‘lesser-heard’ voices given more attention. There were many times when the piano, in particular the right-hand upper notes, were reduced in volume by Ólafsson, giving more prominence to the flute in some places.

And in one sequence clipped below it was being able to hear a melodic line in the ‘middle’ of the piano that really took me (pleasantly) by surprise, almost as though Olafsson had lifted the bonnet of the car he was driving and was pointing excitedly at the fuel injector.

Ólafsson and the Philharmonia with Järvi play Mozart Piano Concerto No. 24

There’s a directness or firmness to Ólafsson’s tone too which I’ve not heard in a performance of this concerto. And I rather like that too. The Guardian’s Andrew Clements didn’t agree who described the performance as ‘bizarrely anachronistic’.

Tthe listening path is worth documenting too. I watched first on TV. Josie D’Arby is by far the best Proms presenter on TV (sorry Katie, Tom and Jess), achieving that rare balance of authority, accessibility, sincerity and warmth. The audio felt as though it battled for my attention with the visuals so I didn’t really pick up on the detail in the playing (it was the Stradal arrangement of a Bach Organ Sonata that worked best on TV). It was only later listening to the radio broadcast I got to the detail in the sound production.

It’s the second time in a week that actively ‘leaning in’ to the detail in a live broadcast has brought me out of a motivation-less fug. It is by listening for detail that my mood is transformed, resulting in renewed impetus (hence the post about Thoroughly Good in a Nutshell). That merely listening in a focused way can have this transformative effect is another reminder of how I draw so much value from this genre.

Listen to Víkingur Ólafsson with the Philharmonia and Paavo Järvi playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor via BBC Sounds.

2 thoughts to “Víkingur Ólafsson Mozart 24 with the Philharmonia at the BBC Proms 2021”

  1. Agree with your comments about the “inner voices” and details of VO’s rendition. I found the performance vigorous yet elegant, the energy of the outer movements complemented by a gorgeously expansive and expressive slow movement. Beware the commentators who think they know how these pieces “should” be played. Mozart created his own cadenzas in the heat of performance & what I love about VO’s playing is that it feels spontaneous and “modern” (especially in the Bach concerto) which also paying full attention to the text, without being overly reverent. He’s one of my favourite pianists of the moment – not one of his DG recordings has disappointed.

  2. Agree with your view of VO’s performance, Jon. I found the Mozart vigorous yet elegantly presented, the energy and rhetoric of the 2 outer movements complemented by that very expressive, eloquent slow movement. Beware commentators who think that this music “should” be played in a certain way – Mozart extemporised his own cadenzas in performance and one of the many things I liked about VOs performance is that he brought both a refreshing spontaneity to the music while also showing fidelity to the text, but without reverence/pedantry. The Bach was also really glorious and he gave a very good case for the joy of hearing Bach played on the piano. He is one of my favourite pianists and I have enjoyed all of his recordings for DG, especially the Glass and Bach discs

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