This set hasn't been around very long, and was first released
on the Musical
Heritage Society label, a subsidiary of the Musicmasters
catalogue. This Nimbus re-release has a similar look, and retains
that nice Al Hirschfeld drawing on the cover. Described as 'seminal
listening' by Evan Dickerson (below).
I certainly concur that having fine performances of Mozart's
entire output for piano duet in one beautifully recorded set
is a terrific boon for buffs. There are some points at which
I found the playing less than ideal, and as I went on I ended
up struggling with the question, is this is a set to acquire
and to treasure, or something of an also-ran?
Husband-and-wife pianists Misha and Cipa Dichter met at The
Juilliard School and made their first joint appearance in 1972.
Having been married and performing together for such a long
time it is hardly surprising there is a special chemistry between
these two performers. Despite having been active for so long,
this turns out to be the duo's premiere recording. In a
way I can hear why. These are performances which, on the whole,
would do better as a live concert experience rather than under
the unforgiving spotlight of the microphone.
Comparing the wonderful Sonata in D major K 448 against
the well known 1985 Murray Perahia/Radu Lupu recording, originally
on CBS and now on Sony, is about as stiff a test as any alternative
could undergo. Playing the Dichter duo in the car on the way
back from one of those interminable meetings the Dutch love
so much, a colleague summed their playing up somewhat cruelly
as 'van dik hout,' a literal translation being 'of
thick wood' and implying heavy-handedness. Put against Perahia/Lupu
I have to agree to a certain extent. The recording presents
a rich, orchestral piano sound, but the bounce in the rhythmic
Allegro con spirito is hampered by micro-breaks as shifts
in register occur, phrasing is a bit four-square, the architecture
of the harmonic progressions steers a rather random path, dynamics
are a bit one-dimensional and with no real pianissimo, the odd
note pokes out here and there like a spring in an old sofa.
This is a nice enough recording taken in isolation, but if you've
been spoiled by the refinement and sheer inspired joyfulness
of Perahia/Lupu then this won't supplant them.
This remains true of most of the rest of the set: a lovely recording
and a marvellous collection of pieces, but playing which refuses
to take off quite as one might like. I think some of the hardest
works to bring off in this context are the fugues. The Fugue
in G minor K 401 is another case in point. Beginning rather
heavily, it really has nowhere to go over its relatively brief
span. The subject really is treated like a plank of wood, giving
a feeling of 'oh dear, here it comes again' rather than
'wow, there it goes.' With a mild softer dip in dynamic
in the middle, the end piles on more and more so that we've
had quite enough by the end thank you. It all sounds rather
straitjacketed and old fashioned. Rather unremitting heaviness
is again a feature of the Adagio & Fugue in C minor K
426, but, allowing the penny to drop, if you can hear this
as an 'orchestral' interpretation rather than as a chamber-music
performance then it is possible to go along with the musicians
to a certain point. It's like a Stokowski arrangement of
a Bach chorale - more orchestration than original. With K
426 I'm afraid I find the build-up from loud at the
beginning to very loud by the end rather unbearable, but if
you like Mozart well-cooked and served with mustard and hot
chillies then this might well be your bag.
The playful theme of the Variations in G minor K401 works
well enough, and where the Dichters play with a lighter touch
and more restraint the musicality shines through a little more.
There is however little definition between varied theme and
accompanying figurations later on. The opening of the
Sonata in F major K497 is nicely wrought, and with Misha
Dichter voting for this as one of his favourites the players
perhaps show a closer affinity with the music. Of the slow movement
he comments '[it] is extraordinary, I'm always aware
of its feeling like a wind serenade in its writing. I try to
feel very wind-like in playing it. Bassoon lines, clarinets
seem hinted at in the piano part.' With this sense of breathing
through the melodic lines there is somewhat more elegance in
the phrasing here than in some of the other pieces, and the
results are attractive enough.
Moving through the other sonatas confirms and reinforces the
comments above. I like the Dichters touch in the softer movements
and the warmth they bring to the rich and satisfying piano sound
on this recording. There is no indication as to what kind of
piano is/are used, but I would like to know. Searching for the
utmost Mozartean chamber-music intimacy, you will probably find
yourself yearning in vain for those melodic shapes and witty
turns which make you want to laugh and dance - the Dichter duo
is I am sorry to say rather too flat-footed for that, but with
so much fairly decently played very good music on offer I also
find it hard to be overly negative about this set. Bearing in
mind the 'orchestral' aspect of this kind of playing,
I was intrigued to hear what they would do with the Busoni arrangement
of the Fantasia in F minor for Musical Clockwork K608.
The opening leads one to expect the full works, but the fugal
writing is well supported by some nicely placed bass lines.
Once again, spoilt by an alternative, I found myself wrestling
with the dramatic recurrence of the opening theme when compared
with the 1990 DG recording by Christoph Eschenbach and Justus
Frantz. There is another of those micro-gaps which separates
the last, rather hacked chord of the musical sentence, making
for a rather lumpy statement. Sure, it's tricky, but shouldn't
be impossible for specialists like these. There is another arrangement
at the end of disc 3, with Grieg's addition of a second
piano to the famous Sonata in C major K 545. Originally
educational in purpose, Grieg found 'the whole thing sounded
surprisingly good' in the concert hall, and for some reason
so does it here. It is as if the duo are in a different session,
a different location, and on a different plane altogether. The
last movement of this is a mad romp which will have you rolling
in the aisles, and the duo clearly relish this arrangement to
the full. The relatively simple and transparent textures come
through with a lively quality which I missed in many of the
other pieces, and I found myself going back to make sure I hadn't
just been in some kind of grumpy mood with the other performances.
Indeed, some of disc 3 does seem to have a more ethereal quality
in places, though the driving energy of what, to my mind should
be a gentle flow in the secondary voice of the running passages
of the Andante of the Sonata in C major K 521 brought
me back to reality soon enough. With all that power play going
on it is hardly surprising that the melody is more drowning
than waving in that section from 2:40, though there is some
lovely playing elsewhere in the movement.
If you are looking for a more long-term satisfying complete
set of these works I would personally go for the Yara
Tal and Andreas Groethuysen duo on Sony. This is more expensive
and also not perfect, and I've found myself liking their
teasing with the inner tempi less over the years. They do have
a lighter touch in general however, frequently undercutting
the Dichters' timings and giving a fleeter impression even
where durations are similar. This might also have something
to do with the balance of the recording, but perception can
be as valid as reality in these cases. Once again, taken in
isolation and with more generous ears I can hear why many listeners
may have found the Dichter set more admirable than the impression
I have given in my review. There is a great deal of very
good playing here and the recordings are top notch, done in
a nicely resonant if anonymous location. If you only really
want the great Sonata in D major K 448 then I would however
urge you to find a life-enhancing copy of the Murray Perahia/Radu
Lupu recording on Sony which is coupled with an equally essential
recording of the Schubert Fantasia op.103. There is another
K 448 with Vladimir Ashkenazy and Malcolm Frager on a
Decca 'Steinway Legends' re-issue which if anything
swings even more than the Sony, but the couplings might appeal
less, and the Perahia/Lupu combination has long been a desert-island
must-have. If you do decide to 'go for it' be prepared
for big beefy late-romantic orchestral Mozart rather than the
truly witty quicksilver chamber-salon variety.
Beefy Mozart ... see Full Review
But Evan Dickerson in 2005 though this one of his Discs
of the Year
Big-name pianists have regularly joined forces on disc to perform
a selection of these Mozart works - Lupu and Perahia on Sony,
Cooper and Queffelec on Ottavo, and Lortie and Mercier on Chandos,
to name just three pianistic pairings. More often than not the
couplings have been Schubert works for four hands.
As far as concerns us here these works can be traced like a
leitmotif through three pairs of lives: Mozart and his sister
Maria Anna (Nannerl), Rosina and Joseph Lhevinne
(*), and their pupils Misha and Cipa Dichter. Perhaps the Dichters
are not as well known as the other pairings listed above, but
this set holds out the potential of several advantages. Firstly,
the completeness of the set, as opposed to one or two works
in isolation; secondly, perhaps a special intimacy brought to
the playing; and thirdly, the presentation of a couple of curiosities.
I chose to listen to these works in strict order of K number.
Anyone wanting a sense of Mozarts compositional development
within the four-handed medium using this set should get used
to juggling the discs: the dexterity pays off with a rewarding
musical journey. Mozart used the form for a variety of reasons:
to capture different aspects of his musical personality, written
to be showpieces performed during his youthful tours accompanied
by father Leopold and sister Nannerl, as teaching pieces (!)
and, not least, as a medium to stretch his imagination.
The Sonata in C major, K. 19d composed in London in 1765 shows
the youthful Mozart working within the accepted notions of the
form, no doubt under Leopolds guidance, and, some have
claimed, editorship in terms of preserving these early works
for posterity. But the Dichters performance of it announces
several important characteristics of the work and set as a whole.
Closely though naturally recorded, the parts are nicely set
off against one another and display interplay as a key ingredient.
Also immediately apparent, particularly in the Menuetto-trio,
is a rapt intimacy that fits the quiet understated brilliance
of Mozarts writing - a good sign of things to come. The
closing Rondo sees skilled negotiation of tempo changes; further
revealing Mozarts already advanced assimilation of the
need for dramatic contrast within the composition.
If from here on in I pick out those aspects of each work that
particularly attracted attention, it is not that the rest lacks
merit, because it doesnt.
The Sonata in B-flat major, K. 358 displays again a real sense
of equality in the pianistic partnership. Tempi, particularly
for the charming rippling middle adagio, are well chosen. They
speak of practise and experience, but have not lost the fun
behind the writing. Sonata in D major, K. 381 is notable for
the crispness and clarity of the finger-work from the start,
and the sense of balance the parts give the music internally.
The Fugue in G minor, K.401 appears as a miniature exercise,
and one can well imagine it being used for teaching purposes
to instruct variously in technique and as an example of fugal
structure. Likewise, with the Adagio and Fugue in C minor, K.
426. In the Dichters hands they spring full of life from
the page, even the more outwardly serious passages, so that
- whatever their humble teaching origins might have been - a
sense of invention within the confines of musical form is felt
... even to the edge of chaos in the fugue of K. 426.
The remaining items are all major works, and show Mozarts
style at its mature zenith. Sonata in D major, K. 448 is an
intricate piece full of imagination and brilliance. The Dichters
playing retains the jewel-like clarity from earlier works and
remains ever alert to both structure and idiom. I particularly
enjoyed the hushed, almost vocal quality of the andante.
Sonata in F major, K.497, the longest work included, continues
in many ways the path begun with K. 448. The major difference
outwardly is the less showy nature of the piece but I
recall Sir Clifford Curzon saying how hearing another pianist
pull off a Mozart slow movement really successfully inspired
his admiration more than any amount of showy fireworks. The
intricacy of the work is made to sound disarmingly simple, which
of course is anything but the case in reality. And what a flood
of ideas there is to contend with, order and balance! Just one
example: the nuance the performance has is the way at around
650" in the closing allegro the line is effortlessly
slimmed to a simple run to lead into the most understated yet
totally apt ending imaginable.
Sonata in C major, K. 521 is given such fluency in the Dichters
playing that it immediately draws you into the piece. Perhaps
more so than elsewhere the voices of each piano remain distinct
from the other and this is fully brought out in the playing.
There are plenty of opportunities to catch the intimate side
in dappled half-light, as these alternate with brightly-lit
sparkling passages, and the sensitivity to inner dynamism is
absolutely as it should be. Its worth getting the set
for the sonatas K. 448, 497 and/or 521 alone.
Now to the curiosities the arrangements by Busoni and
Grieg. Quite what prompted Grieg to keep Mozarts sonata
in C major, K.545, intact, assign it to one piano, and write
a whole other part to fit alongside, is not known. The effect
though is strange, as the work moves gradually from something
distinctly Mozartian to abstract Norwegian impressionism. Busoni,
for his part, creates a serious virtuoso display from Mozarts
clockwork composition that is dispatched with suitable precision
and flair by the Dichters.
This goes on my Discs of the Year list without hesitation.
Seminal listening in every respect.