Preview: Piano 2006 Festival, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

A marathon of Mozart in Manchester
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The Independent Culture

"If you're trying to make a point in a Mozart festival this year," says Barry Douglas, "go for the jugular." Thus, under the direction of this Belfast-born virtuoso, a posse of top pianists are to play every one of Mozart's concertos at Bridgewater Hall this month.

Douglas himself will be playing numbers 17, 22 and 24, and he will hope to infuse them with something of the style he first heard when that great Russian Emil Gilels played Mozart at the Royal Festival Hall. "It had a burning clarity, like a blazing light," says Douglas. "Nothing to do with energy or speed or virtuosity. It was a sound that seemed to say, 'I know what I'm doing, and why'. He made them sound as if they were being played by a symphony orchestra, or a male-voice choir.

"It wasn't that he was louder than other people - he just wasn't afraid to underline the asymmetry of the phrases and polyphony. And it emphatically wasn't dainty, as so much of Mozart playing is today."

Nor was it mannered - another sin of contemporary performers. "I'm not saying that Gilels' solution was necessarily the right one," says Douglas, "but it appealed to me. It was unadorned but, at the same time, remarkably rich and dramatic." However, he doesn't want readers of these words to get the impression that he's trying to reincarnate the Russian: "I couldn't do that. But even if a little of it rubs off on me, I'm glad."

The big question with Mozart piano concertos is - whose cadenzas? For while some have authentic Mozart ones, others do not. Douglas's answer is that one of his three will have Mozart cadenzas, one will have Douglas's own, while the third will have the extraordinary cadenza composed for Svyatoslav Richter by Benjamin Britten.

"Even if Mozart had left a cadenza for the E flat concerto, I would still have played the Britten one," say Douglas. "When a supreme composer such as Britten writes something, you have to sit up and take notice."

21-26 March (0161-907 9000)