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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Complete Sonatas for Piano and Violin
Dmitry Sitkovetsky (violin),
Antonio Pappano (piano, CD 1)
Konstantin Lifschitz (piano, CDs 2-4)
rec. 2006, Potton Hall, Suffolk, England (CD 1), and 2007-09, Tonstudio van Geest, Heidelberg/Sandhausen.
HÄNSSLER CLASSIC HC17013 [4 CDs: 295:31]

The explosive first movement to the Sonata for Piano and Violin in A major, K.305 that opens this set promises to make it an exciting one, almost to a fault. The first disc of this set is accompanied by Antonio Pappano who is of course better known as a conductor, but has worked as a pianist to great effect with the likes of Ian Bostridge and Roberto Alagna. I find his approach to Mozart a bit prickly on this first disc, though it is never short on musicality and sensitive dynamics. There is a change of sound perspective between K.305 and K.380, the second session sounding a little darker in balance, the piano a little more subdued and therefore mixing less well with the violin, though Dmitry Sitkovetsky is well aware of the violin’s accompanying function in swathes of this music.

After this first disc the set settles down into a partnership with pianist Konstantin Lifschitz, who broke onto the scene with a 1994 recording of the Goldberg Variations on the Denon label, and who has since also gone on to record the Beethoven violin sonatas with Daishin Kashimoto (review) and a great deal more. Lifschitz possesses no less energy than Pappano, but is not quite so ‘in your face’ to my mind, though this may in part be a side-effect of the recording balance or venue. In any case, the synergy between these two products of the Moscow music education system is palpably evident, and while quite big-boned and ‘modern’ sounding, these Mozart recordings are highly satisfying. Both violinist and pianist make way for each other where the music demands an accompanying role from either, and while there can be a certain amount of masculine testosterone on display this doesn’t see the music leap out of its 18th century classical idiom into anything overly romantic or experimental.

So, leaving aside versions with harpsichord or fortepiano, where can we look if we’re uncertain about which set of Mozart’s complete violin sonatas to acquire? What, in fact, should a ‘complete’ set contain? The Naxos label pairs violinist with Takako Nishizaki and Benjamin Loeb in its sixth volume (review) of a collection that evolved over many years and with several different musicians. This particular release is perfectly fine, but in this example is less characterful and involving than with the suppressed and at times crackling energy of Sitkovetsky and Lifschitz. Johannes and Elisabeth Jess-Kropfitsch on the Gramola label (review) are very good, but the recorded acoustic makes them sound as if they recorded the pieces in your nicely upholstered front room, which you may or may not appreciate. The piano is a little tubby sounding perhaps, and the general results might be summed up as ‘reliable’, but if you are looking for a set that includes Mozart’s youthful sonatas then this might be worth considering if it hadn’t since been overtaken by violinist Alina Ibragimova with Cédric Tibergnhie on the Hyperion label.

This latter series has become something of a new benchmark for the Mozart violin sonatas. Superbly recorded, Ibragimova and Tiberghien seem to have stripped away the accretions of past interpretation to bring us a Mozart that shines in its deceptively simple sophistication. Something like K.378 that closes their fourth volume (review) acquires a jewel-like atmosphere in their hands, where with Sitkovetsky and Lifschitz it has a more adventurous, almost concerto-like quality.

If you are not bothered the childhood works and further completions to the ‘complete sonata’ collection then there is further competition from Anne-Sophie Mutter and Lambert Orkis (review). That lyrical opening to K. 378 speeds up in their hands to create something that has witty sparkle as well as elegant grace. Mutter’s fairly ubiquitous vibrato is something you will have to warm to, but there is no doubting the involving nature of this duo’s playing. They have a more elevated sense of sparkle than Sitkovetsky/Lifschitz, and this comparison is one that makes one realise quite how much Russian ‘soul’ there in in their particular set. There is no absence of the light touch in the playing from this duo, but they also have a healthy earthiness that keeps everything grounded and human when compared with Mutter’s more fantasy-like approach. Comparing something like the Rondeau second movement of K.302 you hear an opening from Mutter and Orkis that might be infused with the poetry of Schumann, prepared to linger just a little on certain notes, and with a whispery sense of anticipation that speaks of candle-lit glimpses of ankle and secretive winks behind fluttering fans. This is where Sitkovetsky and Lifschitz are more four-square and honest sounding, much more of a below-stairs affair and none the worse for it, but if you want your imagination inflamed by something more transformative then Mutter will take you to unexpected places indeed.

There are of course more alternatives. Itzhak Perlman and Daniel Barenboim for instance form a classic duo for Deutsche Grammophon (review), full of verve and joyous musicality, but still not conveying that essence-of-Mozart I hear in the Hyperion recordings with Alina Ibragimova wand Cédric Tibergnhie. If I was guiding anyone towards a set that will stand the test of time and draw you back for more on a regular basis then it would be this one. Dmitry Sitkovetsky, Antonio Pappano and Konstantin Lifschitz are a great team and this set is by no means to be sniffed at if it appears in your Christmas stocking, but by all means throw your net far and wide to find out where your own preferences reap the richest harvest.

Dominy Clements

CD 1
Sonata for Piano and Violin in A major, K.305 [16:04]
Sonata for Piano and Violin in E flat major, K.380 [18:49]
Sonata for Piano and Violin in E minor, K.304 [14:20]
Sonata for Piano and Violin in B flat, K.454 [20:47]
CD 2
Sonata for Piano and Violin in G major, K.301 [13:10]
Sonata for Piano and Violin in D major, K.306 [22:36]
Sonata for Piano and Violin in F major, K.376 [17:04]
Sonata for Piano and Violin in A major, K.526 [24:06]
CD 3
Sonata for Piano and Violin in C major, K.303 [9:49]
Sonata for Piano and Violin in F major, K.377 [19:26]
Sonata for Piano and Violin in B major, K.378 [20:02]
Sonata for Piano and Violin in E flat major, K.481 [23:00]
CD 4
Sonata for Piano and Violin in E flat major, K.302 [11:31]
Sonata for Piano and Violin in G major, K.379 [19:34]
Sonata for Piano and Violin in C major, K.403 [8:27]
Sonata for Piano and Violin in C major, K.296 [17:45]
Sonata for Piano and Violin in F major, "für Anfänger", K.547 [18:40]



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