Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART(1756-1971)
Sonata in D major, K. 448 (375a) (1781) [24:50]
Sonata in F major, K.497 (1786) [27:47]
Sonata in C major, K.521 (1787) [24:07]
Marie and Veronica Kuijken (pianoforte)
rec. 14-16 December 2009, Galaxy Studios, Mol, Belgium CHALLENGE RECORDS CC72363
This recording has been made by the sisters Marie and Veronica
Kuijken, daughters of well known early music specialist and
conductor Sigiswald Kuijken. This pair have been playing four-hands
piano music since 1989 and clearly have a very close musical
relationship. Indeed, the players mention the added proximity
musicians have to each other when performing on the narrower
keyboard of an early pianoforte rather than a modern instrument:
“If you can’t stand each other, it’s better
that you don’t play this music on a historical instrument”.
Much more frequently performed and recorded on a modern grand
piano, comparisons pretty much go out of the window when seeking
to evaluate a recording like this. I won’t for instance
be referring to the set of complete 4 hands piano works played
by Misha and Cipa Dichter, which Evan Dickerson liked
but about which I wasn’t so keen.
There is a promising sounding fortepiano recording which includes
these works amongst the complete piano music of Mozart on the
Brilliant Classics label with Bart van Oort and Ursula Dütschler
which I don’t know. Having regularly helped move the collection
of instruments at the Royal Conservatoire - something which
has to be done for each concert - and having therefore heard
Bart van Oort’s students play a variety of repertoire
I suppose I must have had more exposure to this musical environment
than some. In short, I feel qualified to declare this as a particularly
It seems a bit perverse to put the potentially richer sounding
two piano K448 at the beginning of the programme, but
in fact the sonic texture contrasts less than you might imagine,
and this chronological ordering works well. The classical pianoforte
has a less sophisticated hammer action than the modern instrument,
and wood frame which means the strings are at a lower tension.
The upshot is reduced dynamic range, less sustaining power and
a different palette of colours to the piano you are more likely
to be used to. The advantage of these instruments, copies of
pianofortes from 1788 by Johann Andreas Stein, is that we hear
Mozart’s music as he would have heard it in his day. He
is known to have admired Stein’s instruments from a letter
to his father Leopold, and so this is a way of stepping into
the musical time machine and re-discovering the candle-lit sounds
of a bygone age.
This recording ably conveys the subtleties of the pianoforte.
Slightly more distant in balance but without the extra resonance
of Ronald Brautigam’s BIS solo
recordings, the sound is eminently listenable in both stereo
and SACD surround, though with the latter allowing the ‘loudness’
of the instruments and the way they fill the acoustic to spread
and sound that much more natural and convincing. I am a huge
fan of the two-piano Sonata in D major, K448, and while
this recording won’t dislodge my favourites, of which
Murray Perahia and Radu Lupu on Sony are at the top of the heap,
I will cherish this glimpse of the ‘real’ Mozart
sound. The first two movements are nicely performed, the opening
Allegro con spirito with plenty of bounce and operatic
verve, the central Andante as smoothly lyrical as one
might expect - i.e., not quite as much as with modern grands,
but by no means lumpy either. The final Molto allegro
might have been a tad swifter, having the feel more of a hard-driven
andante and reducing interest in the thematic repetitions, but
still with plenty of stunning moments and contrasts of mood.
The Sonata in F major K497 is if anything even more remarkable
in terms of its compositional content, and the surprises which
leap out from the Adagio introduction of the first movement
take on a new life in this content. Again, the Allegro di
molto is perhaps a little reserved in tempo, but in this
case I prefer musical sensitivity and accuracy to headlong pace
and risky excitement. The Kuijken sisters mention that “the
instrument dictates  what can and cannot be done”, and
I bow to their experience in choices of tempo. I can imagine
that over-pushed speeds would sound chaotic and clattery, so
I appreciate the sense of detail and attention to inner voices
that we are treated to here. The substantial central Andante
is a fine bit of music, and the musical conversation between
the parts is portrayed with wit and charm. That independence
of the two parts is continued in the final Allegro, and
it is fascinating to hear the second part growling away in the
lower range of the instrument - surely something Mozart must
have relished greatly as he exploits it extensively in this
Written one year after K497, the Sonata in C major,
K521 was composed for a gifted student, Franziska von Jacquin.
With this in mind, the virtuoso passagework and equality of
demands in each part are hardly surprising, the booklet notes
describing this as a “competitive relationship”.
The central Andante is more elegant and gently imposing
than lyrically expressive, but is filled with lovely touches
which are highlit by the contrasts in timbre with the pianoforte.
The music-box qualities of the main theme in the final Allegretto
might have been portrayed with a little more gentleness, but
the dramatic contrasts in the development sections dig deeply
and provide enough counterweight.
The sound of the early pianoforte is not for everyone, but those
inquisitive enough to want an impression of this marvellous
music played on instruments copied from those Mozart would have
played are in for a treat with this disc. The synergy of the
Kuijken sisters is as close as you could wish for, and their
playing is full of stylish élan and richness of character.
Add this through a state of the art recording and we’re
onto a winner.
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