Mozart: 16 Sonatas for Violin and Piano. Tomas Cotik (violin), Tao Lin (piano)—Centaur [Dist. by Naxos]

Mozart: 16 Sonatas for Violin and Piano. Tomas Cotik (violin), Tao Lin (piano)—Centaur CRC 3619/20/21/22—4:27:43 [Dist. by Naxos] ****1/2 :

In this new recording from Tomas Cotik (violin) and Tao Lin (piano) are presented sixteen sonatas by Mozart on modern instruments. Cotik has a very warm tone which contrasts nicely with the more acoustically-distant piano which has a colder sound, especially so in the upper register at softer volume. And while modern instruments are adopted, Cotik is wise, I believe, in playing with one eye looking backward: in the use of vibrato he uses the effect lightly in a very sympathetic way. This is well displayed in the Andantino sostenuto e cantabile from the Sonata in B-flat, KV 378. It’s a beautiful movement where the duo shines.

Reviewing a recording is more than a commentary on the music, or the quality of the performance. I want to know the performers’ point of view. I can’t escape the contribution of the recording engineers. And I am also sensitive to matters of historical performance practice.

The faster movements, for all their energy, suffer somewhat in this recording from the acoustic. All the technical precision by Lin on piano is somewhat washed together. The attack on a period piano is sharper, but that isn’t the real issue here. As chamber pieces, I wonder if the acoustic of a church was the best choice, or if a more supportive miking would have helped the balance and capture of detail? In the Tempo di Minuetto from the Sonata in C, KV. 303, Mozart does write passages where the violin gets behind the texture of the piano, and to the artists’ credit, they make it work well. I still would have liked them to have had an equal footing in the recording, having the piano sound “next” to the violin instead from some distance behind. All this said, the recording works better on loudspeakers than with headphones for me.

Cotik’s violin stays articulate in the foreground and the fast movements highlight both the technical merits of both musicians and their musical gifts. The style and articulation in the third movement from the Sonata in B-flat, KV 454 shows off the professionalism of both performers: how they play together as if from one mind; how Cotik’s articulation captures Mozart’s humor; how dynamics shape what might appear on the page as simple melody into something richer and more interesting.

In “complete collection” recordings, whether it is “all the symphonies” or “complete string quartets,” it is always fun to pay attention to the development of a composer’s own growth and development. With four CDs worth of music in this recording, Cotik and Lin have the opportunity to reflect upon the development of Mozart’s own voice across the sixteen sonatas (though, they note, this is not a complete violin and piano sonatas recording, but instead features sonatas written between 1778-1788). The sonatas grow longer over time but there is no shortage of sublime moments in the earlier sonatas. The opening movement of the Sonata in C, KV 303 switches back and forth between slower episodes with fast. The fast are bold and bright; the slower are richly harmonized.

The booklet for this release includes notes about each sonata which enriched my education about these pieces. There is no perceived weakness from the musicians among all the movements. Each sonata is celebrated with equal energy and polish. Consistency is not an easy quality to find in large-scale recording projects. Kudos to Cotik and Lin for giving each piece equal love and attention to detail. That said, I fell in love with Mozart’s opening movement in the Sonata in F, KV. 377, for the fantasy of running notes, the fussy articulation required from the violin, and how it all gets wrapped up in a tidy package. It speaks to Mozart’s genius and these two performers convey it so well.

This recording is my first exposure to any of Mozart’s chamber pieces for the violin and piano. I found it a delightful exploration. With chamber music, it is easier with two instruments to intently focus upon the two instruments. It’s obvious after several auditions of this music that Mozart did not hold back from writing for just two instruments with his full capacity. Tomas Cotik and Tao Lin bring a wonderful performance and due exposure to these pieces.

—Sebastian Herrera

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