Notes and Editorial Reviews
Violin Sonatas: in F,
Catherine Mackintosh (vn); Geoffrey Govier (fp) (period instruments)
CHANDOS 0772 (62:38)
32:5, I recommended the first volume of Catherine Mackintosh and Geoffrey Govier’s series of Mozart’s violin sonatas (K 301, 303, and 302, as
well as two sets of variations, K 360 and 359—Chandos 755), cautioning potential listeners about “the aggressively tart sound of Mackintosh’s violin and the reverberant concert venue,” while in
33:4, I recommended their second volume (K 296, 305, 304, and 306—Chandos 0764) more generally, especially noting their “clarity and grace” as well as their “pellucid intelligence.” Now it’s March 2011, and with the ides comes the third volume, again featuring Mackintosh playing her 1703 Giovanni Grancino with a late 18th-century bow and Govier playing a 1986 Christopher Clarke copy of a 1795 Viennese fortepiano by Anton Walter, again tuned to A = 430, and again provided with insightful notes by Neal Zaslaw. The ensemble, Duo Amadè, recorded the program at the end of September 2009 in St. Mary’s Church, Stoke-by-Nayland, Suffolk. Whatever the venue, the reverberant—but not too reverberant—recorded sound of this third volume places the instruments in a balance and at a proximity that suggest intimacy.
In the opening of K 376, Mackintosh adapts to the timbre and articulation of Govier’s fortepiano with a crisp attack and a tart timbre of her own that enhance staccatos, though her starchy timbre may detract for some listeners from the sweet purity of the
passages. The second and third movements feature contrasts between the sprightly and the stark, the slow movement’s richer timbres yielding to the finale’s springier ones.
My earliest experiences of listening to K 378 hardly suggested to me that the piece had been written with the violin part, no matter how highly developed, that Mozart at least explicitly intended as an accompaniment (after all, eminent soloists like Heifetz and Grumiaux recorded the work)—although playing it later on with a soloistic pianist certainly gave me a hint. In this partnership, Mackintosh seems to have accepted the role of accompanist, though she occasionally plays with soloistic freedom and takes unassuming rhythmic liberties like
. Nevertheless, Govier thunders as much as his instrument will let him in the climactic passages, in a way in which Mackintosh never can. Listeners may find that in the last measures of
before the restatement of the first movement’s theme, the two performers sound a slight bit tentative and that, later on, Mackintosh seems a bit insecure in patterns of running 16th notes. Violinists can be tempted to play in such a way as to suggest that their part in the opening measures ought to be understood as theme rather than accompaniment, but Mackintosh subordinates herself here, as the music demands. She also rises to the lead in the middle section. Govier and Mackintosh begin the turns in the last movement’s theme on the note above the written one, but with hardly any accent, moderating the practice’s spiky effect. Their dialogue throughout this movement amounts to badinage that buoys its already high spirits.
If the violin and fortepiano play the opening measures of K 526 homophonically, it’s clear that the violin, mostly a third lower, remains in the role of accompanist. Mackintosh’s violin sounds perhaps surprisingly husky in the lower registers, but not necessarily warmer. Although this sonata is at most only a handful of years later than others, its musical argumentation sounds more complex; Mackintosh and Govier expand to encompass this increased maturity. The slow movement, unlike those in the other sonatas on the program, greatly exceeds that of the outer ones in length. Mackintosh plays its long ascending lines hauntingly, while Govier matches her affect in the leaping accompaniment with which the Andante begins, as well as in the left-hand passages an octave below. In the last movement, the fortepiano frequently sprints through passages in rapid eighth notes while the violin accompanies; Govier exudes both brilliance and energy in these; Mackintosh doesn’t seem able to match the effect.
Chandos’s series may not represent the Holy Grail for aficionados of modern instruments. But for those who agree with the premise that Mozart sonatas reveal their merits most transparently through period sonorities, the Duo Amadé’s third volume deserves a recommendation about equal in urgency to that of the second volume.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Works on This Recording
Sonata for Violin and Piano in A major, K 526 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Written: 1787; Vienna, Austria
Venue: St Mary's Church, Stoke-by-Nayland, Suff
Length: 23 Minutes 0 Secs.
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