MOZART: Keyboard Music, Vol. 4 = Fantasia in D Minor, K. 397, and Sonata in D Major, K. 311 (played attacca); Prelude & Fugue in C Major, K. 394; 12 Variations on “Je suis Lindor” in E-flat Major, K. 354; Sonata in G Major, K. 283; Fantasia in D Minor, K. 397 (final bars completed by AUGUST EBERHARD MÜLLER) – Kristian Bezuidenhout, fortepiano – Harmonia mundi HMU 907528, 71:29 *****:
Rather than offer up a straight shot of the Mozart keyboard sonatas and then move on to other forms, as is often the case, Kristian Bezuidenhout and his producers have seen fit to mix things up a bit in this series, offering (so far) two sonatas per volume along with other genres, such as rondos. For example, Volume 1 includes the great C Minor Fantasia, K. 475, two late piano sonatas, and the Variations on Gluck’s “Unser dummer Pöbel meint,” which Tchaikovsky turned into the last movement of his orchestral Suite “Mozartiana.” That sounds like a particularly attractive volume, and I hope I’ll get to investigate it sometime; but Volume 4 is the first that I’ve had the opportunity to hear, and I’m much impressed.
First, we have the challenging D Minor Fantasia, which is heard two ways—neither of which is fully satisfactory. As John Irving explains, no autograph score of the work survives, the earliest source being an 1804 print that bears the mystifying title Fantaisie d’Introduction. What’s mystifying is there’s no record of what the work might have been introductory to, and in fact there is no surviving work in D minor by Mozart that it might have introduced. However, the piece ends “on an inviting dominant 7th chord,” meaning that if the work is to sound finished, it needs a resolution of some sort. The 1804 print supplies a brief coda written by A. E. Müller; Bezuidenhout rounds off his program with this version. Actually, while John Irving maintains that Mozart would have supplied a more elaborate close, I find Müller’s tidy little coda a far better solution than appending the Fantasia to the D Major Sonata, K. 311, written perhaps five years earlier. There is a disconnect here that has more to do with style than with key relationships (since the Fantasia features a turn to the key of D major at the end). The sonata is simply a less mature composition, the Fantasia bespeaking the confidence and sophistication of the works Mozart wrote after relocating to Vienna in 1781.
I say that even though the other sonata on the program, K. 283 of 1775, is one of my (and just about everybody else’s) favorite Mozart sonatas. It begins with one of Mozart’s sunniest, most pastoral-sounding melodies and includes a serene but not uneventful Andante slow movement, with its troubled middle section in the minor key, fraught with a number of pregnant pauses. It ends with a bumptious Presto that’s a real showoff piece. In an interesting side note to this sonata, Irving mentions that shortly before this sonata was written, Mozart had traveled to Munich, where he performed on the fortepiano—somewhat uncomfortably, according to a contemporary account. Irving goes on to say that Mozart probably had only a passing acquaintance with pianofortes at this point since “there is no evidence surviving to suggest that there were fortepianos available in his native Salzburg before 1780.” However, the autograph score of the Sonata K. 283 shows that Mozart had quickly come to terms with the increased expressive possibilities of the fortepiano, because it has detailed dynamic markings that indicate he wasn’t constrained by the harpsichord’s lack of sensitivity to a player’s touch.
Finally, we have the Variations on “Je suis Lindor” from Antoine-Laurent’s Le Barbier de Seville and the Prelude and Fugue, K. 394, written at the time Mozart first became acquainted with the music of Baroque masters contained in the personal library of Baron Gottfried van Swieten, Viennese diplomat and chief curator of the Imperial Library (and later, Haydn’s librettist for The Creation and The Seasons). The former piece is quite entertaining, though I do think Mozart wrote more interesting sets of variations. But the latter work shows Mozart was captivated by the challenge of translating the essence of Baroque counterpoint into the music of his own times. The fully stocked expressive armory provided by the pianoforte is displayed right up front, in the volatile pages of the Prelude, which I find more striking than the very correct Fugue that follows.
Bezuidenhout plays a copy by Paul McNulty of an 1805 model Anton Walter & Sohn fortepiano. It’s a lovely, highly responsive instrument despite the fact that I’ve read Walter fortepianos of the nineteenth century were of lesser quality than those of Mozart’s day. (Mozart’s fortepiano was, I believe, a 1782 Walter.) Bezuidenhout’s sensitivity to dynamic shading and rubato give his playing great authority, and his music-making is as much a joy to hear as the well-balanced program he has chosen. The recording—as far as I can see, uncredited in either the booklet or CD cover—is equally fine. I hope to keep up with this Mozart series since it promises to be a highly rewarding one.