Mozart Complete Sonatas for Violin and Keyboard, Vol 1
This is billed as Volume 1 of a complete set, and the series certainly gets off to a cracking start. The recording gives the fortepiano (an Adlam copy of a 1795 Anton Walther instrument) a full, rich, sound, and the balance with the violin is excellent – it’s as though we’re listening in a small, but resonant room.
The noble introductory Adagio of K379 sounds wonderfully colourful, and is followed by an unusually passionate, intense performance of the Sonata’s G minor Allegro. It’s taken at a faster tempo than usual, and we’re persuaded to think of it as a worthy forerunner of the great G minor works to come. It’s the CD’s high point, perhaps, but the first two movements of K378 run it close; the opening Allegro moderato is spacious, flexible and expressive, and the second movement warm and sensuous.
Gary Cooper plays with considerable freedom, often spreading chords to soften their impact or for extra expressiveness, and ornamenting repeated passages most imaginatively. Rachel Podger doesn’t generally ornament her part; her accompaniments are unforced and flow easily, and she enjoys taking the lead, playing boldly yet with sensitivity.
Mozart’s first sonata, K6, begun when he was six, is a lively piece, but we’d never guess the composer. And K547, intended as an educational piece, has nothing of the expressive depth of the other late sonatas. But Cooper and Podger’s playing remains suited to the music’s character, unaffectedly bringing out its charm and vitality.
The first sonata on this CD, K379, was written at a critical moment in Mozart’s life, immediately before he was kicked out of the Salzburg Archbishop’s service; the music, written by a very angry young man, is powerful, forthright stuff. I don’t know whether Gary Cooper and Rachel Podger are aware of this (I’m sure the writer of the notes here isn’t), but they do bring to the sonata real passion and intensity, in the big rhetorical gestures of its spacious first movement, taken rather slowly and grandly, and in the agitated high spirits of the faster second, taken decidedly rapidly. I’m not convinced that Mozart would have played it quite so aggressively, but it’s certainly an exciting performance, with much well-judged timing and a big dynamic range.
Perhaps too big: Cooper uses a piano based on a Walter of 1795, which is quite misguided for the little C major sonata written when Mozart was about seven. They try to make too much of it; it needs more delicacy, less heaviness, and certainly less in the way of improvisatory flourishes. The later but light sonata K547 is a delicate and quite graceful piece, and again it is rather over-performed, too persistently perky when a touch of elegance would not have been out of place. The variation finale comes off the best. Then there is the B flat Sonata of Mozart’s last Salzburg years, which really doesn’t need these rather exaggerated, affected rhythms and forceful playing; it needs to be allowed to breathe and to unwind a little more gracefully. But the Andantino is eloquent music, and the players clearly have fun in the finale. Better a disc full of character, even if slightly unruly character, than a bland one, and there’s much to admire here.