Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is special. Music & Arts has done the public at large a great service in reissuing Lili Kraus’s 1954 Haydn Society recordings of Mozart’s solo keyboard works (priced at five discs for the price of four). The first four discs cover all of the piano sonatas plus the C-Minor Fantasia, K 475 (which is traditionally located before the C-Minor Sonata, K 457); the final disc presents a selection of Mozart’s wonderful variations, plus some smaller pieces.
Famously, Budapest-born Kraus studied with both Kodály and Bartók before moving to Vienna, where she eventually became a professor (1925–31). The present release represents her first traversal of Mozart’s keyboard output (there is a second traversal for
Columbia) and is a source of continual delight from start to finish.
The early sonatas are simply magnificent. Kraus treats them as already polished masterpieces. There is no hint of technical difficulties getting in the way—contrast her easy way with the heavily ornamented first movement of K 279 (expert, crisp articulation) with that of the rather more clumsy Martino Tirimo in his account as part of his recent cycle (Regis 1253). Kraus links the piece to opera buffa (especially the acciaccaturas). She treats the spare textures of the Andante (so close to Haydn’s textural preferences in his keyboard slow movements) unapologetically, so the music emerges as a deeper statement than one might imagine. The final chords are exquisitely weighted. The rhythmic shifts of the finale emerge as wonderfully playful—her pearly articulation is once more a delight. Let me reassure you I have no intention of itemizing every single sonata here. The point is that this first sonata contains in essence everything that makes Kraus’s playing so special. Her unfailing musicality extends to all of the works in this set, great or small. Some listeners might find her slow movements a little too slow (Kraus distinguishes clearly between Andante and Adagio), but they are always sustained by the most lovely legato. Indeed, lines frequently tend toward the bel canto—her cantabile truly sings.
Interesting that a Claudio Arrau telecast of K 311 has recently appeared on a Video Artists International DVD (4388). Kraus has identifiably more energy in the first movement; both advocate slow Andantes (Mozart did qualify it—Andante cantabile con espressione). Kraus lavishes a huge amount of affection on the famous K 331, finding exquisite balance and poise. The later sonatas are simply marvelous. Kraus fully reveals their stature while retaining each one’s individual sound. So, the first movement of K 570 is the epitome of gentility while the first movement of the C Minor, K 457, is appropriately resolute (“appropriately,” because it is preceded by the beautiful and almost orchestrally conceived C-Minor Fantasy, K 475). The last three sonatas are replete with masterful touches that appear under the umbrella of a magnificent, all-encompassing serenity.
Of modern players, Mitsuko Uchida sometimes comes to mind when listening to these performances, except that Uchida can err on the side of the over-careful, even the prissy. Where Uchida can be over-reverential, Kraus is a sort of channel through which Mozart’s music can flow. Maria Pires, too, has over the years proved herself a supreme Mozartian. But overall, as a reference set, it is the one by Kraus that wins out.
A special welcome to the final disc, which comprises variations and smaller pieces. Kraus lavishes just as much care on these delightful works as she does on the meatier sonatas, resulting in nearly 80 minutes of pure delight. The famous Adagio, K 540, is sublime. There is no other word—listen to the way Kraus pedals just after the six-minute mark, achieving just the right amount of blur.
Detailed booklet notes by colleague Bernard Jacobson guide the listener through Mozart’s keyboard output as well as providing a sensitive biography of the pianist. Transfers are of the highest standard.
FANFARE: Colin Clarke
Works on This Recording
Piano Sonata No. 1 in C major, K. 279: I. Allegro
Piano Sonata No. 1 in C major, K. 279: II. Andante
Piano Sonata No. 1 in C major, K. 279: III. Allegro
Piano Sonata No. 2 in F major, K. 280: I. Allegro assai
Piano Sonata No. 2 in F major, K. 280: II. Adagio
Piano Sonata No. 2 in F major, K. 280: III. Presto
Piano Sonata No. 3 in B flat major, K. 281: I. Allegro
Piano Sonata No. 3 in B flat major, K. 281: II. Andante amoroso
Piano Sonata No. 3 in B flat major, K. 281: III. Rondeau: Allegro
Piano Sonata No. 4 in E flat major, K. 282: I. Adagio
Piano Sonata No. 4 in E flat major, K. 282: II. Menuetto I - Menuetto II
Piano Sonata No. 4 in E flat major, K. 282: III. Allegro
Piano Sonata No. 5 in G major, K. 283: I. Allegro
Piano Sonata No. 5 in G major, K. 283: II. Andante
Piano Sonata No. 5 in G major, K. 283: III. Presto
Piano Sonata No. 6 in D major, K. 284: I. Allegro
Piano Sonata No. 6 in D major, K. 284: II. Rondeau en Polonaise: Andante
Piano Sonata No. 6 in D major, K. 284: III. Theme and variations
Piano Sonata No. 7 in C major, K. 309: I. Allegro con spirito
Piano Sonata No. 7 in C major, K. 309: II. Andante un poco adagio
Piano Sonata No. 7 in C major, K. 309: III. Rondeau: Allegretto grazioso
Piano Sonata No. 9 in D major, K. 311: I. Allegro con spirito
Piano Sonata No. 9 in D major, K. 311: II. Andante con espressione
Piano Sonata No. 9 in D major, K. 311: III. Rondeau: Allegro
Piano Sonata No. 8 in A minor, K. 310: I. Allegro maestoso
Piano Sonata No. 8 in A minor, K. 310: II. Andante cantabile con espressione
Piano Sonata No. 8 in A minor, K. 310: III. Presto
Be the first to review this title