mozart europe genuin

Mozart and his Europe
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788)
12 Variations on Les Folies d’Espagne H.263 (1778)
Rondo in C major H.260 (1778)
Johann Christian Bach (1735-1782)
Sonata in A major Op.17 No.5 (pub. c.1776)
Muzio Clementi 91752-1832)
Sonata in F minor Op.13 No.6 (1785)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Sonata in B flat major K.333 (1783)
Adagio in B minor K.540 (1788)
10 Variations in G major on Unser dummer Pöbel meint from Gluck’s Pilger von Mekka K.455 (1784)
Anna Khomichko (piano)
rec. 2022, SWR Studio Kaiserlautern, Germany
Genuin GEN23841 [81]

Before listening to the disc I glanced through the booklet notes … then glanced more closely … then sat and studied the first two paragraphs and I have to confess I am still trying to sort out the actual meaning. Admittedly much of it is quoted and then translated from Otto Vrieslander’s 1923 book on CPE Bach but the author, Cris Posslac, appears not to be writing for the average music lover; I had to look up Bicinium for instance – it turns out to be a two part vocal or instrumental work. The gist of some of the earlier part seems to be that while Mozart has been afforded performances on the best modern pianos the influence of CPE Bach and his brother on later generations could not be appreciated because clavichords, harpsichords or early pianos were mostly chosen to play his music; because his oeuvre is usually heard covered by the audio veil of the historically correct instrumentarium as Posslac puts it.

I will at this point claim my place as a simple chap and move on to the music which let’s face it speaks for itself, doing so very eloquently in the capable hands of Belarusian-Ukrainian pianist Anna Khomichko. She opens with two works by CPE himself, a composer who seems to be appealing more and more to pianists; Marc-André hamelin, Danny Driver and Mikhail Pletnev are just three who have recorded his music on a modern instrument. The opening variations are based on La Folia, that old theme that fascinated composers from Corelli and Marais to Beethoven, Liszt and Rachamninov and onwards to Tangerine Dream and Vangelis. Carl Phillip opens with the simplest presentation of the theme imaginable, strict crotchets, three per bar in both hands; he may have assumed the performer would have padded this out, as George Malcom does on his Eloquence disc (482 5117 review) but Khomichko plays it in this basic form, all the more to highlight the complexity that follows. From the very first variation Carl Philipp surprises, passing the theme between the hands and exploring intriguing chromaticism with just the two parts. After a variation that exploits fast spread chords Carl Phillip once more delves into chromatic lines, finding complexity with the barest of textures, a marvellous two part counterpoint. More standard virtuosic display passages are found in variations five and nine as well as the Scarlattian variation seven. Variation eight, a grave march, is more adventurous harmonically, sidestepping into B flat minor when we expect A minor and working around to F minor before a quick return to D minor, all in the space of eight short bars. Khomichko follows the rippling semiquavers of the final variation with a return of the theme in its original state.

Variations close the recital too in the form of Mozart’s Variations in G major on Gluck’s Unser dummer Pöbel meint. We are much more familiar ground here with various figurations decorating the theme, semiquavers for alternating right and left hand, triplet runs and cross hand jumps amongst them and though there is some harmonic development the variations mostly hover around the G major/minor tonality. Notable is his expressive use of trills in variation six, a contrapuntal seventh variation and, developing out of a cadenza-like passage, a broad and majestic adagio leading to the jaunty final variation. The bright enthusiasm of the variations contrasts sharply with his extended Adagio in B minor, a work that is more dramatic harmonically. Khomichko is sterner in its dynamic contrasts than Víkingur Ólafsson on his Mozart and Contemporaries disc (Deutsche Grammophon 486 0525 review) who takes a softer, more tonally romantic approach. She pairs Carl Phillip’s Variations with his Rondo in C, a rather dull name for a work that bubbles with invention and fire, surprisingly so considering the gently lilting mature of its rondo theme.

Carl Phillip’s brother Johann Christian Bach, some twenty one years younger, is represented by his Sonata in A major, taken from a set of six published when in the mid to late 1770s. Stylistically these share many characteristics of Mozart’s writing but the opening theme could almost be Schubert especially in its final iteration. This is a two movement, an allegro followed by a presto finale in the form of a gigue; this whirlwind movement lies between his father’s gigues from the suites and classical sonata finales with a little Scarlatti thrown in for good measure. Stepping forward a decade Clementi is represented by his F minor Sonata from his six sonatas op.13. Scarlatti’s voice can also be heard in the opening bars though the form is that of a sonata movement proper. The work was written at nearly the same time as the much more familiar Sonata in B flat major by Mozart that follows it on the disc. I have to say that much as I love the Mozart sonatas I am always more impressed by the Clementi sonatas for the sense of adventure and imaginative development. Mozart’s opinion of Clementi that he doesn’t have a Kreuzer’s worth of taste or feeling as he wrote to his father may have been more about his playing than his compositions but one cannot but wonder if any lack of feeling or taste could produce something as effortlessly elegant as the opening movement of the F minor sonata, its dramatic largo or its flowing finale, virtuosic in its passage-work but sporting a lyrical main theme and an ending that dies away into nothing.

The Mozart sonata needs no introduction for me except to say that Khomichko plays the opening repeat with subtle decorative additions as she does in all these works and what taste she exhibits here. She has a fine ear for this and never overdoes the decoration. She is recorded in gorgeous sound with warmth and clarity from her Steinway. Her tone is beautiful and her natural, unmannered playing and flexibility of phrasing makes this recital an automatic candidate for one of my recordings of the year. I am keen to hear what she does next.

Rob Challinor

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