Tuesday, January 17, 2012

New Album Review: Mozart: Keyboard Music, Vol. 3

I never warmed to Mozart’s music for solo piano until I heard Kristian Bezuidenhout play it. I don’t know if the South African fortepianist intends to record Mozart’s entire keyboard oeuvre but, based on what I’ve heard in each volume of this series, I hope he takes a shot at it. This new volume features Bezuidenhout playing a Paul McNulty reproduction of an 1805 Walter instrument.

Two sonatas frame the program. The B-flat major, K. 333 opens the show and the F major, K. 332 closes it. The B-flat major was written in 1783, about the same time as the “Linz” Symphony. In the first movement Mozart stresses structure (moving away from the purely melody driven galant style) and the clarity of Bezuidenhout’s playing puts the composer’s blueprint in sharp relief.
The highly expressive Andante cantabile is beautiful but also harmonically daring. Bezuidenhout plays the poet here with a tenderness that’s never fey. Bezuidenhout’s reading of the genial finale is suitably bubbly. The F major is one of Mozart’s better known sonatas. Its surprising first movement bursts of fury (after a pretty, but almost banal opening theme) are startling and Bezuidenhout’s brawny, crisply articulated playing makes them all the more ear-opening. Bezuidenhout tastefully embellishes the lovely Adagio (some of his best playing on the album) and snaps off those sextuplets in the finale with athletic precision. A set of variations on a tune from a musical play by Benedikt Schack (the first Tamino in The Magic Flute) benefits from Bezuidenhout’s wit (we’ll have a great Diabelli Variations from him some day) and virtuosity.

What impresses me is how Bezuidenhout makes every line sing clear while he’s also painting each note with vibrant color. Some of it is certainly the gorgeous instrument he’s playing, a marvelous Walter copy with rich and resonant bass and a luminescent upper register. The Fantasia in C minor, K. 396 showcases the remarkable color the instrument can deliver when played by a master. If you have been reluctant to sample a fortepiano recording (do people still fear period instruments?), this is an album to lead you safely into that world. You can’t criticize excellent music played and recorded beautifully, so I won’t. Get this one.

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