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. DDD

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.

Guy Aron

Lively historically-informed performances of a neglected part of Mozart’s output.