Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Sonatas: No. 12; No. 13. Fantasy,
Variations on “Ein Weib is das herrlichste Ding,”
Kristian Bezuidenhout (fp)
HARMONIA MUNDI 907499 (69:05)
My pleasure in Kristian Bezuidenhout’s traversal of Mozart’s keyboard works, now at its third installment, grows unabated. If anything it has been enhanced by deep and repeated samplings of some of his other recent recordings: early Mendelssohn concertos
with the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra and Gottfried von der Goltz, his collaborations with Mark Padmore in Schumann and Lachner songs, and, something I simply can’t get enough of, his “Kreutzer” Sonata with Victoria Mullova. (All but the last are Harmonia Mundi; the Beethoven sonatas with Mullova are on Onyx.) I can also happily report that, at least in most of the critical organs I track, response to this Mozart series is well nigh unanimous: praise for Bezuidenhout as pianist, as musician, and admiration for his tremendous gifts.
The anchors of Volume 3 are the two Sonatas, K 332 in F Major and K 333 in B?, both ripe fruits of 1783. In the first movement of the F-Major Sonata, with its suddenly overcast skies as the rippling major flows suddenly into choppy, syncopated minor waters, Bezuidenhout demonstrates his ability to turn on an emotional dime, yet always within the logically inevitable construct of Mozart’s sublime affective discourse. The Adagio unfolds with all the rich characterizations and contrasts of an operatic
, and we are the spellbound observers of a gripping drama whose outcome we can only guess. While Bezuidenhout embellishes all repeats in quick movements, his ornamentation in slow tempos is conspicuously apt, always abetting the lyrical flow. The finale, its emotional contrasts notwithstanding, gambols, skips, and gallops in a fine kinesthetic madness fluctuating between merriment and elation. The B?-Sonata is as grandly august as anyone could wish, though its golden hues seem especially burnished and radiant.
Between the sonatas, the earlier of the two C-Minor fantasies and Mozart’s last set of variations provide contrast. The variations are based on a tune called “A Woman Is the Most Marvelous Thing In The World” composed by Benedikt Schack for a play by Schikaneder, Mozart’s friend and collaborator. Schack, it is interesting to note, created the role of Tamino in
The Magic Flute
. If the K 613Variations lack the virtuosity of the variations on a theme by Gluck, K 455, or the suave sophistication of those on a minuet by Duport, K 573, they nevertheless emanate the naïve nobility of his late operatic masterpiece. That is precisely the quality with which this performance is imbued. Particularly persuasive is the sixth variation in an ominous F Minor, with its slithering, snakelike chromaticism. Anyone familiar with Bezuidenhout’s reading of the C-Minor Fantasy, K 475, in Vol. 1 of this series won’t be surprised at the audacious originality of his interpretation of its younger sibling, K 396. There’s something irresistible in his no-holds-barred approach to these sorts of tragic scenes, as though a singer walked center-stage to the footlights, thrust out his chest and threw open his arms, raised his chin, and let it rip.
The piano Bezuidenhout uses is another superb Paul McNulty replica, this one from 2009. Like the instruments used in the two earlier recordings, it is based on an original by Anton Walter & Sohn, but a slightly later vintage (1805). To say that this is state-of-the-art Mozart playing is only meaningful with the qualification that there are at most three or four pianists in the world today capable of anything remotely similar. I know of no player on a modern Steinway or Bösendorfer, in fact, who could pull off an F-Major Sonata of greater charm or vivacity, or inflected with more color or nuance. Bezuidenhout seems to have it all: grasp of the characteristic rhetoric, comfort with late 18th-century style, exquisite sense of pacing, identification with every note he plays, and a highly developed musical discernment that allows him to distinguish the important from the subsidiary, substance from ornament. Plus he plays the fortepiano like nobody else. I can’t wait for the next installment.
FANFARE: Patrick Rucker
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