“Complete Keyboard Sonatas”
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: CD 1: Fantasia in C minor, K. 475 – Sonata in F major, K. 533/494 – Sonata in B-Flat major, K. 570 - Variations on “Unser dummer Pöbel meint” (“Les Hommes pieusement”); CD 2: Sonata in C major, K. 330 – Rondo in A minor, K. 511 – Rondo in D major, K. 485 – Adagio in B minor, K. 540 - Sonata in C minor, K. 457; CD 3: Sonata in B-Flat major, K. 333 – Variations on “Ein Weib ist das herrlichste Ding” in F major, K. 613 – Fantasia in C minor, K. 396 (frag. comp. by M. Stadler) – Sonata in F major, K. 332; CD 4: Fantasia in D minor, K. 397 - Sonata in D major, K. 311 – Prelude and Fugue in C major, K. 394 - Variations on “Je suis Lindor” in E-Flat major, K. 354 – Sonata in G major, K. 283 - Fantasia in D minor, K. 397; CD 5: Sonata in A major, K. 331 - Six Variations on “Salve tu, Domine” in F major, K. 398 – Romanze in A-Flat major, K. Anh. 205 – Twelve Variations in B-Flat major, K. 500 – Sonata in C major, K. 309; CD 6: Twelve Variations on “Ah vous dirai-je Maman” in C major, K. 265 – Sonata in E-Flat major, K. 282 – Adagio in F major, K. Anh. 206a – Sonata in B-Flat major, K. 281 - Twelve Variations on “La belle Françoise” in E-Flat major, K. 353; CD 7: Nine Variations on “Lison dormait” in C major, K. 264 – Sonata in A minor, K. 310 – Six Variations on “Mio caro Adone” in G major, K. 180 – Sonata in D major, K. 284; CD 8: Sonata in C major, K. 545 - Eight Variations in F major, K. 352 (based on A. Grétry’s “Dieu d’amour”) – Suite in C major, K. 399 (“Sarabande” comp. by R. Levin) - Menuetto in D major, K. 355 – Gigue in G major, K. 574 – Kleiner Trauermarsch in C minor, K. 453a – Sonata in F major, K. 280 – Nine Variations in D major, K. 573 (based on a menuet by J.-P. Duport); CD 9: Modulating Prelude in F–C, K. deest (K. 624/626a) – Sonata in C major, K. 279 – Allegro in B-Flat major, K. 400 (comp. R. Levin) – Allegro in G minor, K. 312 (comp. R. Levin) – Four Preludes, K. 284a [formerly Capriccio in C major, K. 395/300g] – Twelve Variations in C major K. 179 (based on a menuet by J.C. Fischer) – Sonata in D major, K. 576
Kristian Bezuidenhout (fortepiano)
Recording: Air Studios, North London, England (2010-2016) – 600’51
9 CDs harmonia mundi HMX 2904007.15 (Distributed by PIAS) – Booklet in English, French and German
harmonia mundi has released a mammoth 9-CD collection of Mozart’s piano sonatas, variations and assorted other works, all played by Kristian Bezuidenhout on the fortepiano. This instrument, enjoying a revival, thanks to the interest in period instruments and historical authenticity, challenges some listeners with its clunky action, tangy upper tones and buzzing bass, but when a well-constructed instrument of this suit falls into the hands of a master artist like Bezuidenhout, sparks fly and stone-cold notation takes flight as musical magic.
If nothing else, this rare collection of some 49 complete piano works, including 18 piano sonatas, reminds us of the staggering ingenuity and genius of the young composer from Salzburg. I was particularly struck by the astonishing creativity in the many sets of variations in this collection, including variations within sonatas. Fourteen tracks (out of a total of 109) are devoted to just one set, the theme and variations on “Je suis Lindor” in E-Flat major, K. 354. The variety and complexity of the eight variations on the theme, “Ein Weib ist das herrlichste Ding” (“A wife is a wonderful thing”), K. 613, alone is worth the price of admission to the lavish bounty of this recording.
Of course, so much depends on the performer, and here, Mozart has a worthy disciple in Bezuidenhout. Born in South Africa and now living in London, the soloist has earned the triple crown of distinction by mastering three keyboard instruments: piano, harpsichord and fortepiano. His impeccable technique and the thoughtful presentation of each work, combined with the unrelenting variety of Mozart’s compositions, make for a winning combination.
The collection may be broken down into three groups of three CDs each ending, respectively, with the Sonata in F major, K. 332, the Twelve Variations on “La belle Françoise” in E-Flat major, K. 353, and the Sonata in D major, K. 576.
For listeners not particularly fond of the fortepiano, it is worth the while to accustom oneself to an instrument that may at times sound tinny and almost out of tune but can deliver an authentic context for Classical era composers. The enthusiastic soloist wastes no time in winning over the listener, embracing the differences between his instrument of choice for this album and the rich complexity of today’s grand piano.
It’s a bit like the difference between a simple breakfast and a seafood quiche. The quiche may be more refined with subtle flavors intermingled, but sometimes you just want a good fried egg.
Let’s take a closer look at the mood spun by one of these sonatas, the Sonata in F major, K. 533/494 (the last movement originally stood alone as a concert rondo). The nature of the fortepiano lends a crispness and clarity that evokes an 18th-century mindset filled with Enlightenment ideals and serene notions of balance and harmony, so unlike our own time. Bezuidenhout’s clearly enunciated playing, with such a sense of inevitable flow and a deep regard for Mozart, brightens and clarifies the very air around us, and I find myself recalling Leibnitz’s words, paraphrased by Voltaire, that the existing world is, indeed, the very best that the Divinity could create.
The second movement of the F major Sonata is one of those heavenly Mozart adagios, yearning and tender, almost bell-like in the way the fortepiano adorns the surrounding silence with little peals of song. The Sonata ends on a note of good cheer, the originally stand-alone “Rondo: Allegretto”, tweaked to fit into the framework as perfectly as the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle snaps into place.
The album also provides an opportunity to revisit the complexity of the Mozart catalogue numbering systems with eight editions within 120 years and listing variants such as K. Anh. 206a (Anh. standing for ”anhänge” which is German for “appendices”). The highest Köchel listing in this package is awarded to Modulating Prelude in F–C, K. deest, K. 624/626a (“deest” means this work actually does not appear in this catalog. I prefer the Urban Dictionary’s translation of “deest” as “awesome”).
Whether wandering sadly through a musical labyrinth as in the Adagio in B minor or bursting with sunshine in the C major Sonata, K. 309, Mozart gets his due in this ample assortment, probably best listened to in sections or as individual works, by personal interest, rather than straight through like a triathlon. Bezuidenhout brings us a gutsier Mozart than we are accustomed to, but there is also “Twinkle, twinkle, little star”, and all the problems of the world recede in time and space for a few brief moments of our lives.