Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Keyboard Sonata in D, for four hands, K.381/123a [16:38]
Keyboard Sonata No.7 in C, K309/284b [19:30]
Prelude in C, K.284a [4:32]
Violin Sonata in C, K.3030/293c [10:01]
Rondo in D, K.382 [10:41]
Helga Váradi (harpsichord & fortepiano)
Jörg-Andreas Bötticher (harpsichord)
Plamena Nikitassova and Ildikó Sajgó (violin)
rec. 2018/19, Kirchgemeindehaus, Binningen, Switzerland; Studio Karel VAlter, Waldenburg, Switzerland
CLAVES 50-1908 [61:22]
The title of this disc might suggest music by Maria Anna (“Nannerl”) Mozart; possibly revealing at last the undoubted profusion of “lost” compositions or some recent re-attributions of her brother’s work ŕ la Mendelssohn or Schumann. But while all the music here is unquestionably composed by Wolfgang Mozart, the backstory to the recording is certainly extraordinary. Asked to model a range of costumes and hairstyles created in 2017 in the style of the 1780s and 90s, Hungarian keyboard player Helga Váradi describes how this “induced a feeling of magical connection” with Mozart’s sister. Her obvious feeling of reincarnation as Nannerl is made clear through copious photographs in the booklet of her and others assuming the attire, posture and environments of Mozart’s time. And while the sceptic in me is inclined to see this as a kind of Rosemary Brown moment (she, for the uninitiated, claimed that great composers dictated their ideas to her beyond the grave), two things convince me that Ms Váradi is absolutely sincere in her assimilation of the persona of Mozart’s sister; one is the experience of all of us who ever dress to go on stage in feeling physically more in character because of what we are wearing, but the other is the effervescence, the vitality and, above all, the absolute and total conviction of her playing.
This is an absolute charmer of a disc. In any context the programme would be delightful, but that extra frisson of ownership which comes from the performers feeling spiritually and physically at one with those who experienced this music at the time of its creation, transforms this into a scintillating and wholly captivating experience. You only need listen to how free and unrestrained Váradi and Jörg-Andreas Bötticher are in their exposition repeats and second movement ornamentation for the D major Harpsichord Sonata for four hands, to realise that they are not so much observing conventional approaches to historically-informed performances as actually living them as if this music is their very own. (Váradi does point out that, far from being spontaneous, these ornaments have clear historical justification.) It is impossible not to hear this without envisaging Wolfgang and Nannerl as children in their Salzburg home playing keyboard duets for fun. In her own solo performance (on fortepiano) of Mozart’s C major Sonata, Váradi again gives a powerful impression of spontaneity in her delightfully off-the-cuff ornaments and decorations, but justifies everything through acknowledgement of historical source materials. This so-called “Mannheim” Sonata was mentioned in a letter to Wolfgang from his father, Leopold, in 1778, where he commented that Nannerl played it “quite fittingly, with all expressions”; Váradi’s performance is more than fitting and expressive, it is wholly absorbing and, in the slow movement, decidedly moving. Her account of the solo Praeludium which Mozart wrote at the request of his sister in 1777 is an essay in fluency and technical bravado.
On the basis that “the violin sonata embodies one of the most important genres of the domestic music tradition at the time”, the disc includes the Violin Sonata in C of 1778 which, it seems, Nannerl played with her father, Leopold, during Wolfgang’s long absences from home. Some of the mood that must have pervaded the Mozart household at that time is conveyed in this deeply affecting performance in which Váradi is partnered by violinist Plamena Nikitassova. Virtuosity is very much present here, but it is not that which attracts the attention or leaves the strongest mark, but the sense of companionship and total comfort with the music both players reveal.
The Rondo in D forms an intriguing postscript to the disc. It was one of Mozart’s most popular works during his own lifetime, and was conceived as a replacement for the finale of the Piano Concerto No.5, K175. Here, though, we have it in a version for keyboard and two violins made on the authority of a letter from Leopold in which he comments how both he and a certain Francesco Ceccarelli, accompanied Nannerl in domestic performances of the piece. “We sometimes get a good laugh”, he adds. It is that sense of humour, lively wit and, above all sheer joy in music making, in which Váradi is joined by Bötticher and Ildikó Sajgó, that makes this such a wonderful and life-affirming performance