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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Epistle Sonatas
C major, K329 (?1779) [4:02]*; G major, K274 (1777) [3:16]; B flat major, K68 (?1772) [2:43];  F major, K224 (?1776) [4:15]; B flat major, K212 (1775) [3:16]; D major, K245 (1776) [3:39]; C major, K263 (1776) [3:32]*; F major, K145 (1774) [2:56]; A major, K225 (?1776) [3:53]; C major, K336 (1780) [3:59]; E flat major, K67 (?1772) [2:28]; G major, K241 (1776) [2:53]; C major, K328 (?1779) [4:14]; D major, K144 (1774) [3:11]; F major, K244 (1776) [3:29]; D major, K69 (?1772) [2:33]; C major, K278 (1777) [3:40]*
The King’s Consort: Simon Standage, Michael Comberti (violins); Jane Coe (cello), Ian Watson (solo organ), Robert King (continuo organ, director); * The Classical Orchestra of the King’s Consort/Robert King
rec. 8-10 September 1989, St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London
HYPERION HELIOS CDH55314 [59:37]
Experience Classicsonline

Formerly issued as Hyperion CDA66377, this CD offers very acceptable performances of some generally very attractive music from one of the more neglected areas of that enormous landscape of delight and humanity which exists in the music of Mozart.
 
The Sonate all’epistola, sometimes referred to as the Sonate da chiesa (Church Sonatas), were written for use during the Mass in Salzburg, most (or perhaps all) of them being composed after Mozart’s appointment in July 1772 as Konzertmeister to the Prince-Archbishop Hieronimus Franz von Paula, Count Colleredo. A few may have been written earlier.  They appear to have been used to fill the gap between the reading of the Epistle and the Gospel during Mass, an instrumental substitute for the singing of the Gradual, as it were. Until Alfred Einstein’s discovery, and 1940 publication, of two lost sonatas from the group, modern musicians knew only fifteen such sonatas, but now we have seventeen. Though they sometimes (see Nicholas Kenyon’s useful Faber Guide to Mozart) get discussed as keyboard works, in fact only a few of them give real prominence to the organ, which often plays only a continuo role. All are in one movement; all are attractive; all but three are written for chamber forces; only K263, 278 and 329 make use of a larger string ensemble, supplemented by two oboes, two trumpets and two horns (plus timpani).
 
Except for K.67 all of them either carry a marking of allegro or seem to assume such a marking. All are in major keys. The general nature of the music has frequently – and understandably – called forth adjectives such as “bright”, “joyous” and “cheerful”. Indeed, the mood is more or less uniform throughout (with the exception of the more meditative K.67) but, given Mozart’s inventiveness even in these pretty slight compositions, there is little risk of boredom.
 
I suspect that few listeners would guess that this music was written for a sacred context; much of it sounds as if it belongs in a serenade or a divertimento; some is proto-symphonic; some sounds like part of an organ concerto. Still, if one thinks of the kind of exuberant rococo decoration, full of roseate cherubs and gilded stucco angels, to be found in the cathedral in Salzburg, then a kind of aptness, to do with lightness and complexity of texture, begins to come into focus. Like the rococo decoration itself, this is not music calculated to fit in easily with Northern Protestant conceptions of the sacred!
 
Naturally enough, some of the pieces have a greater appeal than others. If Mozart rarely nods, he is at least more fully awake on some occasions than on others. K.263, for example, is rather bland and predictable. But elsewhere there are many lovely things. In K.145 forte statements are followed by piano restatements to exquisite effect; K.225 is built around some delightful melodies and K.245 is full of assured, mature writing; K.274 is subtle and sophisticated, containing as many musical ideas and inventive details as most works ten times its length; K.278 is a remarkable quasi-symphonic piece, full of a sense of drama, especially in the ways in which it deploys the trumpets and the timpani; the organ is foregrounded splendidly in K.336, which might readily have served as the first movement of an organ concerto.
 
Robert King and his forces give us intelligent, well-judged and entertaining performances, though the recorded sound is not perhaps the last word in vividness. Though I only heard it once and don’t have it to hand for comparison, my memory is that a Chandos recording (CHAN-8745) by I Musici de Montreal, conducted by Yuri Turovsky and with Genevieve Soly as the solo organist, discovered even more vivacious jubilation in this music.
 
Glyn Pursglove
 

 


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