MOZART & CHOPIN: “Dialogue” – Josep Colom, p. – Eudora multichannel SACD 1404, 79:09 (2/10/16) ****½:
A recital that bridges the aesthetic worlds of Mozart and Chopin.
We need not succumb to mystical nonsense to believe that great works of art can communicate with one another over time. There are convergent notions at work in the most enduring aesthetic achievements. We see this all the more in individuals of like sensibilities. Aristotle, who believed in the intelligibility of nature and ably delineated the methods of science, could easily converse with Nobel prize-winning scientists of today. In music, too, it is rewarding to think of musical affinities which defy time. The present recording does just this sort of imagining and allows two such figures to meet and hold up a mirror one to the other: Mozart and Chopin.
Josep Colom is a veteran Spanish pianist, renowned for his recordings of De Falla, Mompou and Brahms. He is a teacher and jury-member for the Chopin Piano Competition. On this recording, he surely enjoys the finest sound engineering of his career as he debuts for a small but outstanding Madrid-based audiophile label, Eudora. We were suitably impressed with this label’s issue of Haydn last year, and this project confirms the sonic wizardry of Gonzalo Noque, producer and engineer.
The dialogue begins with the Mozart Fantasy in D minor, which is played with a noticeable nod to Chopin’s phrasing. It is no more than a pleasing zephyr wafting through a 19th century window into a classical salon. But it is at the ending – left unfinished by Mozart – that we experience a the first “meeting” between Mozart and Chopin; This is mediated by an improvised cadence which merges seamlessly into the Ecossaise in D major, Op.72. The lift from minor to major enlivens the feeling of a transmigration of souls. The very short Ecossaise returns us to substantial Rondo in D major. Here the simplest of subjects, a distinctly Mozartian mannerism, promises little. But a sharp turn into the development section and we are treated to spirited digressions. But the weirdness is felt in both the phrasing and the time, which don’t belong to Mozart’s language. Can it be that Mozart is “remembering” Chopin? (“It is a poor memory that only works backward,” said the Queen to Alice.”)
If taken separately, the Chopin pieces sound conventionally good. They are gracious readings with command of detail and tone throughout. But the Mozart pieces have probably never been conceived or performed in this fashion. Well known pieces such as the Fantasy in C minor, K. 475 and Rondo in A minor K. 511 are chosen for their abundant use of chromaticism. By judicious use of pedal and phrasing we arrive at moment of ambiguity: Is it Mozart or is it Chopin? The graceful cantabile style of both composers amounts to a common tongue, and somehow Colom brings this out in a fashion which makes other stylistic features recede a bit.
While Chopin is mostly represented in the short preludes and Ecossaise, pieces of no more than a minute or two, the recital concludes fittingly with a substantial piece, the Ballade in G minor. At over ten minutes, we have time to sit back and reflect on the deeper connections of this music. We can also imagine what it would have been like for Mozart, 73 years old in 1829, the year of Chopin’s first public appearance (which happened to be in Vienna), to have taken in this evocation of otherworldly beauty. As played so brilliantly by Josep Colom, there is no doubt that this music would have been both intelligible and deeply pleasing to Mozart.
Eudora does a very good job with the liner notes, typically allowing the artist to explain his modus operandi. Here an eloquent essay makes a nice case for the performance decision taken in the recital. Not only do we get something to puzzle over in terms of historical context, we also receive a challenge to listen in a new way.
This SACD will definitely reward those willing to suspend normative performance standards in favor of an open-ended and deeply creative approach to a body of work that, perhaps, has become just a bit too familiar and routine.
TrackList: Fantasy in D minor K. 397; Ecossaise in D major. Op. 72; Rondo in D major, K. 485; Ecossaise in G major, op. 72 No.2; Gigue in G major, K. 574; Prelude in B minor, op. 28, no.6; Adagio in B minor, K. 540; Prelude in E minor, op 28, no. 4; Waltz in A minor, op. 34; Prelude in A minor, op. 28, no. 7; Rondo in A minor, K. 511; Mazurka in A minor, op. 17; Prelude in F minor, op. 28, no. 18; Prelude in C minor, op. 28. No. 20; Fantasy in C minor, K. 475; Ballade in G minor, op. 23