Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Sonatas for Piano and Violin
Renaud Capuçon (violin), Kit Armstrong (piano)
rec. 2022, Teldex Studio, Berlin, Germany
Deutsche Grammophon 4864463 [4 CDs: 241]

Throughout his life Mozart wrote thirty-six sonatas and two sets of variations for violin and keyboard. Some of the sonatas remain incomplete. They span a large part of his compositional career, with the first being juvenile attempts when he was only six or seven  years old. His final thoughts were set down in 1788, three years before his untimely death. Capuçon has decided to dispense with these initial ventures and, instead, focus on the sixteen mature sonatas (Nos 17-28, 32-33 & 35-36) which Mozart began composing when he was 22. Here, the music is much more adventurous and exploring in range. The composer referred to them as Sonatas for Piano and Violin, putting the piano first, much the same as Beethoven was to do later with his Sonatas for Piano and Cello.

The two-movement Sonata in C major K303 is one of the lesser performed sonatas, and I don’t quite know why this is. It’s a delightful work, especially the Tempo di Menuetto which has a touching simplicity. On the other hand, the Sonata in B-flat major, K.454 is one of the most popular in the canon. Attractive is the unalloyed joy in the outer movements, contrasting with the seductive eloquence and rapt intensity of the central Andante. K.526 in A major opens with elation and exuberance. Eloquence and expressive intensity characterize the slow movement, whilst the finale offers Armstrong a chance to shine, and this he does with his breathtaking finger work precision.

One of the most captivating sonatas is the two-movement gem in E minor, K304. It’s the only one Mozart penned in a minor key, composed around the time his mother died, and the mood of the work certainly reflects this. Capuçon and Armstrong instil it with a depth of deep feeling, capturing the music’s austerity and haunting nostalgia. The second movement Tempo di Menuetto juxtaposes melancholy and grief with an element of joyous warmth.

The Sonata in F major K. 377 is yet another delight. It takes flight with carefree abandon with the triplets energetically driven. There’s much wit and irresistible charm in the traversal. It’s variations offer the listener a range of moods which are adroitly managed. There’s much grace and enchantment in the first movement of Violin Sonata in E-flat major K.481, and the players savour the richness of its overflowing lyricism. The finale is an attractive set of variations where the dialogue between the players is tightly maintained.

Renaud Capuçon’s beauty of tone, pleasing warmth, forward projection and pristine intonation is consistent throughout the set. He brings so much colour and variance to his sound. Armstrong, likewise, is fully attuned to the structure, ebb and flow of the music and is a very supportive collaborator.

The care, attention to detail, singularity of vision and artful musicianship of these two players is exemplary. Their performances are well considered with regard to such things as leading voices and balance. They clearly love this music and their commitment to the hidden treasures of the music is to be admired. I’m particularly enamoured by the rich tone of the Bechstein D282 the pianist had at his disposal. These two artists seem well-suited temperamentally in this repertoire, and I hope they will tackle the Beethoven Sonatas sometime in the future.

Stephen Greenbank

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Sonata no.17 in C major, K296
Sonata no.18 in G major, K301
Sonata no.19 in E flat major, K302
Sonata no.20 in C major, K303
Sonata no.21 in E minor, K304
Sonata no.22 in A major, K305
Sonata no.23 in D major, K306
Sonata no.24 in F major, K376
Sonata no.25 in F major, K377
Sonata no.26 in B flat major, K378
Sonata no.27 in G major, K379
Sonata no.28 in E flat major, K380
Sonata no.32 in B flat major, K454
Sonata no.33 in E flat major, K481
Sonata no.35 in A major, K526
Sonata no.36 in F major, K547
Variations on ‘Helas, j’ai perdu mon amant’, K360/K374b
Variations in G major on ‘La Bergere Celimene’, K359 (K374a)