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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Complete Sonatas for Keyboard and Violin, volume 1

Sonata in G major KV 379 (1781)
Sonata in C major KV 6 (1764)
Sonata in F major KV 547 (1788)
Sonata in B flat major KV 378 (1779)
Gary Cooper (fortepiano)
Rachel Podger (violin)
rec. Our Lady St Mary, South Creake, Norfolk, UK. June 2004. DDD; SACD


This is the first volume from Gary Cooper and Rachel Podger of their projected series of Mozartís complete set of sonatas for keyboard and violin. We are told that the series will be completed during 2005/6.

My reference book credits Mozart with composing some forty-two sonatas for keyboard and violin. These undoubtedly bear witness to the development of the modern violin sonata. Imparting life into the genre Mozart, it is said, was responsible for bringing the dramatic violin sonata to near perfection in perhaps the same way that Haydn developed the form of the string quartet.

On this first volume Rachel Podger uses a 1739 baroque violin by Pesarinius and Gary Cooper a fortepiano that is a modern copy constructed in 1987 by Derek Adlam after Anton Walter, Vienna 1795. Iím rather puzzled why Cooper will use a fortepiano for some of the sonatas in the series but not for others. In the early Sonata in C major KV6 which Mozart composed for harpsichord and violin he uses the fortepiano. Later in the series we are told that for some works he will use an English 18th century harpsichord. The photograph on the booklet cover places violinist Rachel Podger in the limelight with only a hazy picture of fortepianist Gary Cooper in the background. That said, in these sonatas it is his instrument to which Mozart has given the lionís share of the work.

This CD includes four violin sonatas, one of which is the first of a set that he wrote as an eight year old. There are also two sonatas from his middle period and his very last violin sonata, written in 1788. The delineation between Mozartís early, middle and late sonatas shows an incredible variation and wealth of material. When hearing performances such as these one wonders why these attractive and rewarding sonatas are not heard more often.

The Sonata in G major KV 379 forms part of the six sonatas of Mozartís Op.2, published by Artaria in 1781. This is a significant work and opens with a most melodic and spacious adagio before plunging into a passionately pleading allegro. The final movement andantino cantabile consists of a melody with five variations. The violin has to repeatedly wait out solo passages for the keyboard.

In 1763 Mozart and his parents set off on a grand tour of Europe in Paris giving a concert for King Louis XV. It was at this time in Paris that Mozart published his set of the Sonatas for harpsichord and violin KV 6-9. The early Sonata in C major KV 6 belongs to that Paris set; a set that with rather timid beginnings features a risingly dominant role for the keyboard. It is said that the 1764 score was almost certainly a collaboration between the young Mozart and his father.

The next work is the Sonata in F major KV 547 from 1788 and is Mozartís final composition in the genre. Mozart seemed to indicate a somewhat lightweight nature for piece with the phrase, "a little keyboard sonata for beginners, with violin accompaniment." In fact the sonata is anything but lightweight and Mozart must have been making a tongue-in-cheek remark.

The final work here is the Sonata in B flat major KV 378 which forms part of the Op. 2 Artaria set. The work is Mozartís twenty-sixth violin sonata and was completed in 1779 shortly after the death of his mother. The score opens with a brilliant allegro moderato, the central movement is a deeply felt andantino and the finale contains a characteristic interlude before a return to the rondo theme.

It was a joy to hear this Channel Classics release and I was captivated from start to finish. There is such a wonderful blend of marvellous music and quite superb performances from this supremely talented duo. The opening movement adagio of the Sonata in G major KV 370 was so deeply moving that I felt a shiver down my spine and it is a movement that so marvellously sets the scene for the release. The sound made by many fortepianos on record I have found uncomfortable on the ear. Not so in this case as Gary Cooperís chosen instrument has a most appealing mellow timbre that is never harsh and abrasive. The recording venue of the Church of Our Lady St Mary in South Creake, Norfolk proves an inspired choice. Credit must go to the engineers at Channel Classics who have done a marvellous job with the sound which is vivid and extremely lifelike.

The astoundingly mature playing of Rachel Podger and Gary Cooper is full of character in near flawless performances of works that are packed with high quality and extraordinary interest.

Michael Cookson

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