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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Sonata for two pianos in D major, K448 (1781) [23:43]
Andante and Variations in G for Piano Duet, K501 (1786) [8:06]
Fantasia in C minor, K396 (1782) [9:04]
Fantasia in D minor, K397 (1787) [5:28]
Larghetto and Allegro in E Flat Major for two pianos (completed by PB-S) (1781/3) [7:43]
Fantasia in C minor, K475 (1785) [11:12]
Paul Badura-Skoda, Jörg Demus (fortepianos)
rec. 2010, Imberger Foundation, Salzburg
GRAMOLA 99214 [66:22]

This excellent recital has been re-released with a different cover from it original 2010 issue. It is a tribute to two great musicians and close friends for over fifty years. Indeed, Paul Badura-Skoda (1927-2019) and Jörg Demus (1928-2019) were so well regarded as a piano duo, that despite their very distinguished solo careers, some people thought they were one person. They died last year within a few months of each other and this CD is a very fine tribute. I see that they recorded some Mozart previously, starting back in 1951. Later, they addressed the Sonata for two pianos in D major, K448 for Auvidis-Valois in the early 1990s. I believe that this was on modern pianos whereas the present Gramola performances are on period instruments; an Anton Walter hammerflügel/forte piano from 1790 for Badura-Skoda and 1796 for Demus. Neither musician is new to “period” instruments. Badura-Skoda has recorded the entire of Beethoven piano sonatas on “original instruments”. I have his earlier set, recorded on a Bösendorfer between 1968-1972 on Gramola.

The “Sonata for 2 pianos in D major, K448” is a supreme example of Mozart’s concertante art and viewers of “You Tube” can see a fiery performance from Martha Argerich and Daniel Barenboim. Lovers of modern piano can find Malcolm Frager and Vladimir Ashkenazy on CD17 of the “handy” 200 CD MOZART225 set which is a Mozart-lover’s dream (review). Badura-Skoda, in his excellent notes, explains that this work is in D major, often Mozart’s festive, and often ceremonial key. Although intended for the forte piano, there are harpsichord features in the corner movements. Understandably, the work is not played often but it is an excellent energising piece by the “inventor” of “four hand music” and the performance is more remarkable because it being performed by two octogenarians. I won’t abandon hearing it on a modern piano but one soon adjusts to the pitch and the colouring of these instruments and you just rejoice in these qualities. The Variations go well, as they so often do. Then Demus plays two Fantasias. The latter, K397, I’ve heard a lot recently and grown to think very highly of it.

The two-piano Larghetto and Allegro in E Flat Major was completed by Badura-Skoda from a fragment discovered in 1963 by the German musicologist Gerhard Croll. The additions were completed by Badura-Skoda one Christmas Eve, a most beautiful present for him, but not for his children who had to wait for the Christmas tree to light up. It really is a charming and delightful duet and I’m so pleased that he completed it. It is redolent of Mozart’s happier days, newly married, unaware of the shortness of his life. Again, the engineers have done a fine job in capturing the sound of two forte pianos, which can’t have been straightforward. If I want cheering up, then this piece will be a wonderful tonic. The CD’s final work, Fantasia K475, is played by Badura-Skoda He ranks it as one of the most important works in musical history. “What sets it apart, besides the perfection in form, is the enormous density of statement’, the beginning of which he cites as death. It’s certainly a sombre end which seems appropriate as both performers have now passed away. The reason for Mozart’s darkness in this work is not known but Fantasia seems a slightly misleading title.

This is an immensely listenable CD and should appeal to all lovers of great music and performers. The booklet has good notes in German and English, on the works by Badura-Skoda and biographies of him and of Jörg Demus. There are also some lovely photos of the venerable duo. This is a set I will return to as often as possible.

David R Dunsmore

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