Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Violin sonata in G major, KV 379 (1781) [20:34]
Violin sonata in C major, KV 403 (1784) [13:43]
Violin sonata in F major, KV 377 (c.1780) [19:15]
Violin sonata in E flat major, KV 481 (1785) [22:05]
Duo Amadé (Catherine Mackintosh (violin), Geoffrey Govier (fortepiano))
rec. 3-5 May 2010, St. Mary’s Church, Stoke-by-Nayland, Suffolk.
CHANDOS CHACONNE CHAN 0781 [75:54]
Mozart was possibly the first professional composer, and as
such he could not afford to wait until inspiration struck. Instead
he was obliged to provide music that was going to meet current
demand, and the violin sonata was a case in point. During Mozart’s
lifetime accompanied sonatas, that is, keyboard sonatas accompanied
by a violin, were extremely popular. As an accomplished violinist
and keyboard virtuoso Mozart was well able to provide such works,
and he ended up writing thirty-six sonatas and two sets of variations
for violin and keyboard. The first sixteen of these sonatas
are regarded as juvenile works, and three of the remaining nineteen
were not completed by him. We may not think of Mozart as a composer
who made a substantial contribution to the violin sonata repertoire,
but clearly that is an impression based on the neglect of these
works. They may not all be from his top drawer, but even the
slightest of them are graced by his ability to write fluent
and melodic music that has few unnecessary notes.
This set is Volume Four in a complete recording of the Mozart
violin sonatas by Catherine Mackintosh and Geoffrey Govier,
performing as Duo Amadé. Catherine Mackintosh was leader of
the Academy of Ancient Music from 1973 to 1988, and has directed
the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, of which she was
a founding member. Geoffrey Govier’s name was new to me, but
according to the liner-notes he has been performing on early
pianos for twenty years, with ensembles such as Ensemble Galant
and the Revolutionary Drawing Room. With performers like these,
this is obviously a recording on historically-informed principles;
Catherine Mackintosh plays a Grancino violin from 1703, and
Geoffrey Govier a modern copy of an Anton Walther instrument
dating from 1795.
The first three works on this CD are taken from the set of six
sonatas which were published as op. 2 in 1781. The disc begins
with the G major sonata, KV 379. This begins, rather unusually,
with a slow movement. The mellow sound of the fortepiano is
immediately noticeable, contributing to a good balance with
the violin. This is further underlined in the next movement,
in which the octaves in the left hand don’t drown out the violin
line, as would usually be the case with a modern grand piano.
This second movement is in a much more turbulent mood than the
first, with dramatic pauses in the Beethovenian manner. The
finale is in theme and variations form; there is a delightful
effect in the fifth variation where the piano plays una corda
to pizzicato accompaniment in the violin.
The second sonata on the disc is that in C major, KV 403, which
has a conventional fast-slow-fast layout. The first movement
opens with a sprightly stepping figure, with the violin accompanying
the fortepiano; these roles then reverse when the figure is
repeated. The second movement, marked Andante, is emotionally
quite exploratory. Mozart only completed 20 bars of the finale;
after his death his widow Constanze gave this fragment to Maximilian
Stadler, who composed the remaining 124 bars. Stadler did his
job pretty well and one is not aware of the join between his
and Mozart’s work.
The first movement of the Sonata in F major, KV 377, has a brilliant,
slightly pompous opening with coruscating passage work. Mackintosh
and Govier’s interplay in this movement is really vivacious.
The second movement is a melancholy Andante, dominated by a
turn figure, with six variations; the last of these is a gracious
Siciliano. The finale is a courtly Minuet with a Trio in the
dominant key of B flat major.
The final work on the disc is the Sonata in E flat major, KV
481. Its first movement begins with a demure theme, leading
to a second subject featuring rippling arpeggios in the fortepiano
and an answering figure in the violin. The relationship between
these themes reverses that found in the usual classical period
sonata-form movement of a “masculine” first subject followed
by a “feminine” second subject. A Minuet is second, followed
by another set of variations marked Allegretto. The theme on
this occasion is one of calculated innocence, a mood that is
thoroughly subverted by the six variations.
Duo Amadé gives accomplished and characterful performances;
tempi are well chosen, and Catherine Mackintosh digs into the
chords with vigour. Dynamically I felt the playing could become
a little monotonous; the interplay between the duo partners
isn’t quite on the level of that between Chiara Bianchini and
Temenuschka Vesselinova in their 1993 Harmonia Mundi set. This
might have been partly because of the closer recording of the
earlier set; I felt the recording on the Chandos disc was a
bit distant. However, the Amadé performances get a bit more
lively over the course of the disc. The physical presentation
falls below the usual Chandos high standards in one respect:
the works appear in the liner-notes in a different order than
that in which they are recorded, so one has to check that the
notes go with the work to which you are listening.
All but one (KV 403) of these works were recorded a few years
ago on modern instruments by Anne-Sophie Mutter and Lambert
Orkis on DG.
Their 4 CD set provides all the violin sonatas that Mozart actually
completed. Mutter and Orkis form an extremely well-sorted duo;
the latter’s discreet accompaniments avoid the balance problems
often found with a modern grand piano. The performances on the
DG set are generally more dramatic than Duo Amadé: I felt that
Mutter’s tone was occasionally a little forced as a consequence.
Both these sets have a lot going for them, and listeners can
be guided by their preference for modern versus original instruments.
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