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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Werke fűr 2 Pianisten: Vol. 1

Sonate B-Dur K.358 (1774) [14:38]
Andante and Variations in G major K.501 (1786) [8:00]
Sonata in F major K.497 (1786) [25:00]
Fugue in G minor K.401 (1772/73) [4:40]
Orgelstűck fűr eine Uhr in F minor K.608 (1791) [9:16]
Yara Tal and Andreas Groethuysen (piano)
rec. 28-31 August 2004, Konzerthaus Karlsruhe
SONY SK93868 [62:06]

The well known piano duo Tal and Groethuysen will be familiar to many of you in their various surveys of Schubert, Brahms, Czerny and others on the Sony label. This is volume 1 of what would appear to be a highly attractive three disc set. As a first impression things look promising for this new venture.

I had plans to do some in-depth comparisons with that old mainstay of the DG catalogue, the 1970s recordings of this repertoire by Christoph Eschenbach and Justus Frantz. Unfortunately, my memories of them playing in the Royal Festival Hall have lasted better than my ‘Mozart’s Masterpieces’ edition copy of these recordings, which would appear to have eaten itself from the inside out since I last played it. So much for the myth of ever-lasting CDs: the loss of yet another disc turning me into a grumpy old man for the evening. I can at least report that the new Sony recording benefits over the older analogue one from the advantages of greater clarity and transparency, as one would expect. I was grateful for the invention of CD for taking away the snap, crackle and pop of LP piano records, so the preservation of my sanity prevented me from taking the comparison any further. Being a keen environmentalist I shall donate the wretched thing to a clown I know, whose best joke is to take out a pair of CDs from his capacious pockets, waving them in front of your face and then replacing them, saying ‘See these? Now you don’t!’ He is a nice chap, but doesn’t get much work.

Anyone quoting the previous sentences out of context would not only be very silly, but would also be doing this new recording a great disservice. The opening Sonata K358 sets the character for the rest of the disc, with immaculately clean and technically brilliant playing and everything in the right place – no peculiar mannerisms or willful ‘interpretation’ getting in the way of the music. It is superb stuff, but there is a sense of safe restraint as well, which had me wondering if a little more fire, even some risk-taking wouldn’t have made the whole thing just a little more interesting. Perhaps I have become a little too attached to ‘live’ as opposed to studio recordings, but I seem to remember having similar slight reservations about the Schubert set as well.

No, you don’t always want wild and frightening Mozart, and he is usually fairly well-behaved in this Sonata, having written it for performance with his sister in mind. The Sonata K497 is a different kettle of fish however. Its origins are unknown, but its supplementary title as a ‘Grande Sonate’ is entirely appropriate, with symphonic proportions and dimensions. This really is Mozart at his best, with expectancy and gruff drama, moving lyricism and flights of elegant and genteel wit keeping one on the edge of one’s seat through each of the three movements.

K401 is a fugue fragment which was completed and transcribed by Maximilian Stradler to be published in 1800. It seems to be little more than a study or exercise – the brilliant composer ‘keeping his hand in’ and seeing what would come out. He never finished the thing, so I think we can safely say he didn’t see much mileage in it, but it provides a fascinating insight into the loose leaves of the composer’s mind at work. Another, better known arrangement is the Fantasie K608, one of three pieces written by Mozart for a mechanical ‘flute clock’. I feel that Tal and Groethuysen could have given just a little more weight to the ‘Marche funèbre’ nature of the opening, which does seem a bit perfunctory, although I generally admire their unsentimental, if possibly over-swift approach.

The booklet accompanying this recording provides a wealth of useful background information and analysis. With that very slight nagging doubt about the squeaky-cleanliness of these performances I have a feeling this is an issue which will grow on you rather than blowing your socks off at first hearing. My respect for this duo’s playing does grow each time I hear them however, so with that said I think this CD much deserves its place in the top rank of recordings in this repertoire. I shall be fascinated to hear what they do with the K448 D major Sonata…

Dominy Clements


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