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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Violin Sonatas: Fragment Completions
World premiere recordings of six sonata-allegros and a fantasia for violin and piano, completed by Timothy Jones.
Rachel Podger (violin), Christopher Glynn (fortepiano)
rec. St John’s Upper Norwood, London, November 2020. DDD/DSD
Reviewed as downloaded in 24/96 sound from press access.

We live in an age when people expect perfection and completeness; that’s nowhere more the case than in the urge to finish music which the composer didn’t. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. The Newbould completion of Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ symphony, as recorded by Sir Charles Mackerras (Erato 5618062) makes a good deal of sense to me; there is some evidence that Schubert did, indeed, complete it. That of the ‘Beethoven Tenth’, assembled from sketches by Barry Cooper, doesn’t. Another Newbould Schubert completion from Mackerras (‘Symphony No.10’ and fragments: Hyperion CDA67000) is very interesting but only border-line convincing. Bruckner 9 and Mahler 10 in completed form, especially the latter in the final Deryck Cooke edition, are very worthwhile.

Which category would these crumbs from Mozart’s table fall into? The question is pertinent because I had already seen two responses, one even more positive than Timothy Jones’ own assessment of his work. The other, after something of an ontological discussion of the reasons for attempting such completions, concludes by expressing enjoyment of the outcome.

In cases like these, the messenger is as important as the message. Just as the advocacy of Mackerras, with the OAE (Erato)and the SCO (Hyperion), helps make the case for the Schubert reconstructions, it very much helps that Rachel Podger is playing the violin part on this recording. A stalwart of the Channel Classics catalogue – her discography taking up the whole of page 21 of the booklet – she has recorded all the regular Mozart sonatas for violin and piano with Gary Cooper, on six separate albums and a twofer. Most of these are now download only, though Volume 3 survives on SACD (CCSSA23606), and the whole series is available as an attractive box set (CCSBOX6414). There’s never any sense, as there is with some recordings of these sonatas, that the odds are unduly stacked against the violin.

On the new recording, playing her Pesarinius violin (1739), she is accompanied by Christopher Glynn on a fortepiano on loan from the Royal Academy of Music; he proves to be just as congenial a partner as Gary Cooper on those earlier recordings, the first of which earned Recording of the Month status from Michael Cookson – review.

That review concludes by praising the ‘near flawless performances … packed with high quality and extraordinary interest’; while I would recommend seeking out those earlier volumes first, perhaps in the reasonably-priced complete set, the same comment applies to the new completed fragments recording. If I hadn’t known that a good deal of editing and adding had been done to the music after it left Mozart’s hands, I might well have believed that I was listening to the genuine article. In a sense, it is – the kernel of all this music comes from Mozart, over a period of years from 1782 to 1789.

I’m cautious about saying that the fortepiano sound is unlikely to put off all but the most adverse listeners – one of my colleagues takes a directly opposite view to me of the period instruments in the recent Harmonia Mundi Beethoven Triple Concerto (HMM902419 – review). I’ll merely say that the instrument used on the new Mozart recording is one of the more amenable examples of the genre, slightly less dry than the 1795 Walter used by Gary Cooper on Volume 1, though that, too, requires little indulgence.

At this late date, I need hardly add my appreciation of Rachel Podger’s part in the proceedings; I’ve run out of words of praise in reviewing some of her other recordings: just see my Recording of the Month review of her Vivaldi ‘Four Seasons’, where my only reservation was that she hadn’t recorded the whole Op.8 set.

Unsurprisingly, given this label’s reputation, the recording is first-rate. I downloaded it in 24/96 format, but it’s also available on SACD and as downloads in mp3, 16- and 24-bit format, including surround sound. The booklet, too, is detailed and informative, including Timothy Jones’ assessment that his work ‘inevitably disfigures’ the music; on the contrary, it brings these otherwise neglected fragments to life.

Some time ago I made an impulse purchase of one of the earlier recordings in the Podger-Cooper series of the Mozart sonatas, and I’ve been regularly listening to it since then. I’ve just looked for it in the cabinet and, lo and behold, it’s missing: I’ve played it recently and forgotten to put it back. I always meant to obtain some of the rest of that series, but the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Apart from Volume 1, we seem to have missed the rest of the series. As one of the aims of our little team of download reviewers is to catch up with missed opportunities, don’t be surprised if I feel inspired to write about the complete set in the near future. I’m streaming and enjoying Volume 1 in 24/192 sound as I finish this review. Meanwhile, the new recording is sure to form part of my listening schedule.

Brian Wilson

Fragment of a Sonata in B flat for piano and violin Fr 1782c: Jones Completion 3 [6:49]
Fragment of a Sonata in A for piano and violin Fr 1784b: Jones Completion 4 [7:35]
Fragment of a Sonata in G for piano and violin Fr 1789f: Jones Completion 1 [7:22]
Fragment of a Fantasia in c minor for piano and violin Fr 1782l: Jones Completion 1 [9:32]
Fragment of a Sonata in B flat for piano and violin Fr 1782c: Jones Completion 2 [7:14]
Fragment of a Sonata in A for piano and violin Fr 1784b: Jones Completion 1 [7:40]
Fragment of a Sonata in G for piano and violin Fr 1789f: Jones Completion 2 [8:39]

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