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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Sonatas for Piano and Violin: in F major, KV 376 (374d) (1781) [17:36]; in G major, KV 301 (293a) (1778) [14:17]; in E minor, KV 304 (300c) (1778) [12:41]; in A major, KV 526 (1787) [25:08]
Hilary Hahn, violin; Natalie Zhu, piano
Recorded at the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, Bard College, Annadale-on-Hudson, New York, USA, February, November, 2004. DDD
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON DG 00289 477 5572 [69:50]

Mozartís Violin Sonatas or the ĎSonatas for Keyboard and Violiní, as the composer described them, are currently being given plenty of exposure on record. For this new release Hahn and Zhu join an impressive list of partnerships to have recorded these sonatas over the years. The delineation between Mozartís early, middle and late sonatas shows what an incredible variation and wealth of material they include. A short amount of research in the catalogues revealed a plethora of accessible recordings. One wonders why these attractive and rewarding sonatas are not heard far more often.

My particular reference book credits Mozart with composing forty-three ĎSonatas for Keyboard and Violiní and these undoubtedly witness the development of the modern violin sonata. 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.

Set in only two movements the Sonata for Piano and Violin in G major, KV 301 was composed in Mannheim in 1778 and published as one of a volume of six Sonatas. Here we see Mozart breaking away from the style of the baroque Sonata by favouring melody over counterpoint. Furthermore, the composer ceases to treat the violin as mere accompaniment to the dominant piano by allowing it to assume a more equal role. The opening allegro con spirito can be vivacious but in the hands of Hahn and Zhu the result is a rather cool affair. The proceedings do not improve much in the happy closing movement rondo where the players seem to be putting on a brave face.

The two movement Sonata for Piano and Violin in E minor, KV 304 was composed in Paris in 1778 the year of his motherís death. Not surprisingly the score exhibits traces of his sorrow and melancholy and was the only sonata Mozart wrote in a minor key. The opening allegro is given only a modicum of enthusiasm by Hahn and Zhu. However, the passionate writing in the closing movement is interpreted with a degree of success.

Composed in Vienna in 1781 the score to the Sonata for Piano and Violin in F major, KV 376 more than ever before places the two instruments in parity. The three movement F major Sonata opens with an allegro here breezily performed by the players. In the central movement andante we are given a suitably restrained interpretation with well blended teamwork. The partnership are uninspiring in the elegant finale-allegro.

The Sonata for Piano and Violin in A major, KV 526 was composed in 1787 in Vienna between his masterworks Eine kleine Nachtmusik and the opera Don Giovanni. At this time Mozart was at the peak of his compositional powers and like those two famous works, the three movement A major score exhibits a wealth of melodies and is regarded by many as Mozartís greatest work in the genre. In the hands of Hahn the opening movement is performed with a seeming lack of affection and the lovely extended andante rather outstays its welcome in this unsympathetic account. Sadly the proceedings from Hahn and Zhu in the final movement come across as rather workaday.

For those wanting a broad selection of Mozartís violin sonatas performed on modern instruments I would confidently recommend the distinguished partnership of Itzhak

Perlman and Daniel Barenboim in the violin sonatas 17-28, 32-34 and sonatina K547 in a four disc set from Deutsche Grammophon 463 749-2. With the same selection as Perlman and Barenboim I also enjoy the four disc set from Szymon Goldberg and Radu Lupu on Decca 448 526-2. My particular favourite is an exciting single disc from Rachel Podger and Gary Cooper using period instruments in the first volume of their projected complete survey. The disc contains the Sonatas 1, 26, 27 and 43 and is on Channel Classics CCS SA 21804.

Overall I was disappointed with Hahnís playing, who in spite of her impeccable credentials never connects with the spirit of the music. No galloping rhythms here, no sparkle or joy and thereís a reluctance to vary dynamic and vibrato. I found the whole experience tiresome and drab and this is exacerbated by the rather harsh tone from Hahnís violin. I shall not be returning to this disc especially when there are such wonderful alternative interpretations around.

Michael Cookson



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