, October 2006
To tie in with his 250th birthday celebrations Mozart’s violin sonatas, or the sonatas for keyboard and violin as the composer described them, are currently being given a considerable amount of exposure on disc.
A swift check in the catalogues reveals a large number of recordings. This is not surprising as these scores contain an incredible wealth of high quality material. One wonders why they are not heard more often. For this new volume Nishizaki and Loeb join an impressive list of partnerships to have embarked on a complete cycle.
It is hard to obtain a definitive number, however most reference books credit Mozart with composing over forty such sonatas, over a period of some twenty-five years. With these scores we are witnessing the advance of the modern violin sonata with new life injected into the genre. It is said that Mozart was primarily responsible for bringing the dramatic violin sonata to a state of near perfection in very much the same way that his contemporary Haydn developed the form of the string quartet.
Composed in Vienna in 1781 the Six Variations minor K360 were probably intended for the use of a talented piano pupil the Countess Maria Karolina Thiennes de Rumbeke.
The Andante and Fugue is more commonly known as the Violin Sonata No. 29 K402 and was composed in 1782 for his wife Constanze Weber shortly after their marriage. It was left incomplete at Mozart’s death in 1791 with Abbé Maximilian Stadler completing the score. Stadler was also to complete the unfinished Violin Sonata No. 30 K403 from 1782. That was another work thought to have been intended for his wife Constanze. Stadler’s completed version was later published as the ‘Sonate facile’.
The Sonata No. 17 K570 was composed in 1789 for solo piano. It was published posthumously as a Sonata for piano with violin accompaniment but the arrangement is not thought to be from Mozart’s pen.
The calibre of the Nishizaki-Loeb partnership is outstanding. They provide expressive playing that is light and delicate. Their performances overflow with imagination and a high degree of intimacy. Nishizaki is highly experienced and has sold possibly the most recordings of any violinist. She has the advantage of a technique that is comfortably secure with a pleasing tone that is crisp and cool. There is a purity to her playing, fused with a relaxed manner that is hard to resist. The elaborate piano part in the hands of Loeb is natural and unforced. The duo’s choice of speeds tends to be rather on the slow side for my taste. However, in the allegro of K570 (track 6) the players demonstrate that they can quicken when they choose. I especially enjoyed their sensitive performance of the adagio of the Sonata K570 which is tender and highly compelling. Also impressive is the closing movement rondo of the same Sonata, dazzlingly played with joy and vitality, and totally free of affectation. Something special is also happening in the Sonata, K403 at several points in the allegro - allegretto (track 4) especially at points 1.27-2.11; 3.30-4.09 and 5.18-6.26 where the unison playing is exceptional.
In a competitive market there are numerous alternative versions of complete sets of the Mozart violin sonatas. My preferred versions are the three volumes on period instruments from violinist Rachel Podger and Gary Cooper. These are mature, characterful and near flawless performances, using fortepiano or harpsichord. They’re on Channel Classics.
For those wanting a broad selection of Mozart's violin sonatas performed on modern instruments, I confidently endorse the distinguished partnership of Itzhak Perlman and Daniel Barenboim. They offer aristocratic musicality and impressive refinement in the sonatas 17-28; 32-34 and the sonatina K547. These are on a four disc set from Deutsche Grammophon 463 749-2. I also enjoy the four disc set from Szymon Goldberg and Radu Lupu for their strong personality and vitality (Decca 448 526-2).
The present Naxos recording has a slightly forward balance and is exceptionally clear. At times I could almost imagine being positioned adjacent to Nishizaki. The booklet notes by Keith Anderson are written to his usual high standard. These are excellent performances that are packed with quality music of extraordinary interest.