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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Works for Violin and Piano [394:07]
Sonata in C major, KV 6 (1764) [10:25]
Sonata in D major, KV 7 (1764) [9:18]
Sonata in B major, KV 8 (1764) [7:03]
Sonata in G major, KV 9 (1764) [7:37]
Sonata in E flat major, KV 26 (1766) [5:59]
Sonata in G major, KV 27 (1766) [7:07]
Sonata in C major, KVF 28 (1766) [4:57]
Sonata in D major, KV 29 (1766) [5:48]
Sonata in F major, KV 30 (1766) [5:59]
Sonata in B major KV 31 (1766) [7:57]
Sonata in C major, KV 296 (1778) [15:23]
Sonata in G major, KV 301 (1778) [13:57]
Sonata in E flat major, KV 302 (1778) [8:25]
Sonata in C major, KV 303 (1778) [8:25]
Sonata in E minor, KV 304 (1778) [11:27]
Sonata in A major, KV 305 (1778) [15:15]
Sonata in D major, KV 306 (1778) [19:44]
Twelve Variations on a French Song, KV 359 (1781) [12:20]
Six Variations on a French Song, KV 360 (1781) [9:31]
Sonata in B major, KV 372 (1781) [7:30]
Sonata in F major, KV 376 (1781) [15:21]
Sonata in F major, KV 377 (1781) [20:02]
Sonata in B major, KV 378 (1779) [18:08]
Sonata in G major, KV 379 (1781) [19:57]
Sonata in E flat major, KV 380 (1781) [17:02]
Sonata in A major, KV 402 (1782) [6:48]
Sonata in C major, KV 403 (1782) [13:03]
Sonata in C major, KV 404 (1782) [2:56]
Sonata in B major, KV 454 (1784) [23:11]
Sonata in E flat major, KV 481 (1785) [21:32]
Sonata in A major, KV 526 (1787) [20:11]
Sonata in F major, KV 547 (1788) [16:26]
Elizabeth Jess-Kropfitsch (violin)
Johannes Jess-Kropfitsch (piano)
rec. Konzertsalon, Villa Kaiserstein, Mürzzuschlag, Austria, 23 July-25 September, 2005
GRAMOLA 98777/82 [6 CDs: 72:49 + 61:14 + 64:38 + 73:43 + 63:21 + 58:22]

 



“One and all, the enclosed world of the Violin Sonatas is vernal and in blossom, which is to say, they have no equivalent except in Nature. At each hearing, we may wonder whether the particular Sonata of the moment be not the most lovely creation, physically, in all music” (Sacheverell Sitwell, The Hunters and the Hunted, 1947).

“Mozart’s sonatas for violin and piano represent a phenomenon as distinctive in music as Dante’s Paradiso in the field of literature” (Ezra Pound, Il Mare, July 1st, 1933).

For all the many differences between them, Sitwell and Pound were both of them connoisseurs in many fields of the arts, with eyes and ears well tuned to the discovery and appreciation of the beautiful; both, as these quotations make clear, found much to relish and admire in Mozart’s violin sonatas. This comprehensive collection makes it possible to study the evolution of Mozart’s contribution to this particular area of the repertoire.

Mozart wrote for the combination of violin and keyboard at almost every stage of his career. Listening, in chronological order, to his music for this combination of instruments one cannot help but be struck by the shift from a form in which the piano is very much the dominant instrument, and the violin’s role is very much that of a subsidiary, to a form in which there is rich and complex partnership of the two instruments.

Mozart’s earliest sonatas, K 6-9, were first published in Paris in 1764, i.e. when their composer was seven years old - though he surely had a degree of assistance from his father; it has been pointed out, for example, that the second minuet in K 6 is an arrangement of music from one of Leopold’s serenades. These sonatas were also issued in London in the following year, announced as “Printed for the Author, and sold at his Lodgings at Mr. Williamson’s in Thrift-street, Soho ... Price 6s and a Family Print, Price 2s 6d”. Thrift-street is, of course, now Frith Street; Mr Williamson was a corset-maker. The original publication of K 6-7 described them on the title page as “Sonatas For the Harpsichord / Which can be played with Violin Accompaniment”. The same description appeared on the title page of K8 and 9. It is hardly surprising, then, that greater emphasis should fall on the keyboard than on the violin in all of these youthful compositions.

It would be wrong to make any excessive claims for this music, but they have a certain almost guileless charm. K 6 has, in its four brief movements, a largely untroubled sense of boyish joy, simple figures repeated for the sheer joy of it. Though the violin does indeed “accompany” the piano, the youthful Mozart is not without an awareness of how the two instruments might interact creatively, especially at moments when the violin echoes and imitates the piano. In K 7 the relatively substantial opening allegro allows the violin greater prominence, especially towards its conclusion; K 8, in its final movement, provides an early example of Mozart’s intriguing use of modulation. K 9 has a chirpy opening allegro, a wistful andante and two rather dull minuets.

K 10-15, which have optional cello parts, are not included here, and the next group of six sonatas, K 26-31 were published in the Hague in April1766, dedicated to the Princess Caroline of Nassau-Weilburg, before whom the Mozart children had played in the previous year. All save the first are in two movements. K 26 interpolates a central slow movement (adagio poco andante) of disarming beauty, in which the two instrumental voices interweave very tellingly. It is particularly well played in this recording. So is the clever closing allegro. This already feels musically more mature than anything encountered in the Paris / London sonatas. Of K 27 Elizabeth Kropfitsch writes in the booklet notes: “The first movement is a minor sensation: it could have come straight out of a modern musical. The melody sequence from bar 10 to bar 11, and from bar 28 to bar 29, is also to be found in adaptation by Andrew Lloyd Webber”. My knowledge of maestro Lloyd Webber’s music is not sufficient for me to judge the accuracy of this information, but I can say that this opening slow movement is quite delightful, limpid and vernal (to borrow Sitwell’s word). In K 28 the two instruments come close to having roles of equal importance; certainly they share the thematic material and are of equal prominence in the energetic forward movement of this lively piece. There is an increasing assurance to the writing in general – Mozart, young as he still was, had already acquired a great deal of experience and encountered the musical life of many of Europe’s major cities. There is nothing childlike about the allegro that opens K 29, for example, or the sophisticated adagio that opens K 30. K 31, in B major, starts with a dancing allegro and concludes with a set of variations, marked tempo di menuetto, which is attractively lilting, though with the piano very much to the fore once more.

Brother and sister Johannes and Elisabeth Jess-Kropfitsch play these early sonatas with sympathy and understanding and with an entirely appropriate sense of scale. These make no claims to be ‘authentic’ performances, and those who insist on harpsichord or fortepiano will need to turn elsewhere – perhaps to Rachel Podger and Gary Cooper on Channel Classics or to Gerard Poulet and Blandine Verlet on Phillips. Those happy to accept more traditional mainstream/modern performances will find much to enjoy in the work of these talented Viennese musicians.

The sonatas numbered K 55-60 are now regarded as spurious, and the next group of genuine sonatas were written during the spring and summer of 1778, on the occasion of more touring, to Mannheim and Paris. This group is made up of K 296 and K 301-306 and occupies CDs 2 and 3 in this set. Though these were still described as sonatas for keyboard “avec accompagnement d’un violon”, it is clear that the violin was increasingly regarded as far more than a mere accompaniment. We are moving, here, into territory that will be more familiar to most listeners; this, for example, is where the excellent 1980s set by Itzhak Perlman and Daniel Barenboim (on Deutsche Grammophon) begins. Comment sonata by sonata is therefore unnecessary. Every one of these sonatas has something to recommend it strongly – whether it be the gorgeous andante of K 296, opening and closing in gentle music of great beauty, either side of a more dramatic central outburst; the opening presentation of the lyrical melody, on violin, in the allegro con spirito of K 301; the minor siciliana in the same sonata’s second movement; the lovely conclusion of K 302. K 303 and, especially, K 304 are fully-realised achievements. K 304 is a largely melancholy, but never self-indulgent, meditation on very serious matters, surely conditioned by the recent death of Mozart’s mother. K 305, on the other hand, leaves elegy well behind, in its reaffirmation of vitality and the appetite for life.

The third CD in this collection is completed by two sets of variations, composed in Vienna in June 1781, and the allegro, the only completed movement, of a sonata began in Vienna in March 1781. Both sets of variations take their themes from French songs, attributed here to ‘A. Albanese’, though I note that Grove describes them as anonymous. These are pleasant, but not especially significant, pieces. The isolated allegro, K 372, is a striking and substantial piece, full of invention and passion. It is particularly unfortunate that Mozart left this projected sonata (originally it was planned for performance in Vienna with the violinist Antonio Brunetti) unfinished.

With CDs four and five we move to the so-called ‘Aurnhammer Sonatas’, dedicated to his piano pupil Josepha von Aurnhammer - of whom Mozart wrote less than gallantly in one letter that “if a painter wanted to portray the devil to the life, he would have to choose her face. She is as fat as a farm-wench, perspires so that you feel inclined to vomit, and goes about so scantily clad that really you can read as plain as print: ‘Pray, do look here’”. He did also say that she “plays delightfully; she lacks only the true, fine singing taste in the cantabile”. The two later became good friends. The set of sonatas dedicated to her contained K 376-380 (as well as K 296 written earlier, and mentioned above).

Now the dialogue of the two instruments is even more thoroughgoing. The three movements of K 376 (written while Mozart was living ‘free’ in Vienna) are a constant joy, not least in the supremely elegant final rondo – very much ‘allegretto grazioso’. K 377 is something of a master class in the form. Its vivacious opening allegro demands considerable technical skill from both players, and its andante is a set of variations in D minor, of great serenity, the last of which has affinities with the D minor string quartet, K 421; it closes with a minuet which is full of charm without being at all arch. This is one of the great violin sonatas. Elsewhere, there are such glories as the gently wistful andante of K 380 and the vivid opening allegro of K 378.

K 402-404 also belong to Mozart’s time in Vienna, being worked on in 1782. K 402 is, it should be noted, was left incomplete (Mozart composed only to bar 34 of the first movement) and is largely the work of Abbé Stadler, work undertaken at the request of Constanze. K 403 also comes down to us in a version completed by Stadler. K 404 is made up of two rather slight movements that may not even belong together. These three sonatas are worth having as part of a ‘complete’ set of Mozart’s works for keyboard and violin, but it is with K 454 that we return to music of real stature. This was written in April 1784, in Vienna, for the violinist Regina Strinasacchi. It was premiered at the Kärntnertor Theatre, in the presence of Emperor Joseph II on the 29th April. Mozart had not, apparently, found time at this stage to write down the piano part and played from largely blank sheets of paper! Indeed, on the autograph manuscript of the score the piano part is written in a different colour of ink and in places is somewhat squeezed in, as if was being added to an already existing violin part. Such stories aside, this is music of a very high order. The first movement’s introductory largo that has about it an air of anticipation, anticipation thoroughly fulfilled by the imposing allegro that follows. The lyrical andante finds room for some powerfully dramatic passages, and the large-scale closing rondo sounds almost symphonic.

CD six contains K 481, K 526 and K 547. The first was completed in Vienna in December 1785. There is extreme subtlety of musical imagination in the interplay of the two instruments in K 481, not least in the sublimity of its slow movement, surely amongst the most beautifully lyrical music that even Mozart ever wrote. The theme of the closing allegretto is distinctly Haydnesque, the variations often startlingly beautiful and intense. The sonata in A major, K 526 was completed in August 1787 (again in Vienna), at the very time that Mozart was working on Don Giovanni. It abounds in ideas, harmonic, melodic and rhythmic alike, but also demonstrates Mozart’s awareness of the value of sparseness. The complex rhythms of the opening movement are succeeded by a remarkable andante, in which the very simplicity of the piano part magically complements the expressivity of the writing for the violin to produce music of expansive and resonant stillness. Stillness is strikingly absent from the moto perpetuo of the closing presto, exuberantly, even fiercely energetic, up to and though its stunning coda, a journey made through passages of counterpoint which demand a good deal of precision from the players.

For the listener who has been following the growing sophistication of Mozart’s writing for this combination of instruments there is a final surprise. Mozart’s final Violin Sonata, K 457 was completed in Vienna on the 10th July 1788. It was designated “A little piano sonata for beginners with a violin”. In a sense Mozart takes the from back to where he had begun with it, but with the advantage of all that he had learned since then; this is simplicity matured out of rich musical and human experience, not out of innocence or childhood. It is a sonata whose significance is all the greater when it is heard at this point in the cycle of Mozart’s compositions in the genre; it takes on a weight of meaning, which in itself it might not possess, from all that has gone before it.

To listen to these 32 sonatas in chronological order is a marvellous experience. Johannes and Elisabeth Jess-Kropfitsch are valuable guides through the journey. The two – who also play and record with the cellist brother Stefan – are highly accomplished musicians, thoroughly steeped in the traditions of Viennese music. Their performances are thoroughly idiomatic, expressive and attractively characterised, without ever being exaggerated or mannered. Naturally, there are more dazzling, and perhaps more profound, performances to be found elsewhere of some of the mature sonatas; but that is in the nature of ‘collected’ sets of this kind. Admirers of Perlman and Barenboim, of Grumiaux and Klien, amongst ‘mainstream’ recordings, or of Andrew Manze and Richard Egarr amongst ‘authentic’ versions, are hardly likely to lower their estimate of those admirable performances on hearing the Kropfitsches. But there is much to be said for hearing a cycle such as this from a single pair of performers, so that one’s sense of the composer’s development is quite separate from considerations about different performers, recorded sound worlds etc. There is a coherent musical vision to these recordings, and it is a vision that the performers are well able to sustain and articulate. There is nothing here that is less than highly accomplished, technically assured and musically intelligent. There are, of course, other ways of playing these sonatas, but this decently set makes an excellent ‘library’ collection to have on one’s shelves.

There are extensive notes in German, English and French.

Glyn Pursglove

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