Terrific performances of difficult, capricious compositions
Mozart: Keyboard Music Vol. 3 is, as you might guess, the third album of Mozart’s keyboard music to be released by South Africa piano and harpsichord maestro Kristian Bezuidenhout. With the first two discs given over purely to sonatas, Bezuidenhout changes the game slightly here. In addition to the lively “Sonata in B-flat Major (K. 333)” and the somewhat more substantial “Sonata in F Major (K. 332)”, we are also treated to a nine-minute fragment from the “Fantasie in C minor (K. 396)” and the delightful “Variations on “Ein Wein Ist das herrlichste Ding” (K. 613)”. It might be too much to say that this central performance steals the show—but it certainly throws into relief the more traditional sonatas that precede and follow it.
The disc starts with the “Sonata in B-flat Major”, a lighthearted piece that demands much dexterity from the part of the pianist. The piece is divided into three movements, the longest being the andante cantabile of the second. Following the opening allegro with its trilling 16th-note runs, the second movement moves the listener into more somber territory, its deliberate tempo and thoughtful mood punctuated by brief pauses and subtle but faintly sinister chord changes.
The “Sonata in F Major” is an altogether more muscular affair, offering the performer a chance to challenge himself with both the rapidfire melodic runs and the abrupt, unexpected shifts in tempo and dynamics. Here, the second movement is the shortest, while the opening adagio and closing adagio assai hover at around the seven-minute mark. Making good use of this time, Bezuidenhout—and Mozart—take the listener on a journey through many moods, from playfulness to a a kind of wry jauntiness to a more hot-blooded excitement. The performance is excellent throughout, with the pianist managing to remain technically accurate and emotionally expressive at the same time. No easy trick, with compositions like these.
The “Variations” prove to be an unexpected delight that serves an intermission between these two compositions. Building from a simple, 77-second opening theme, Bezuidenhout reinterprets the motif eight more times, usually confining himself to the original running time but adding notes, tweaking the tempo and playing with dynamics to create a variety of sonic textures built around the same basic progression. Playful and entertaining, it also gives the maestro a chance to demonstrate his virtuosity while having fun in the process.
This is solo piano throughout; there is no accompanying orchestra. The sound quality is imprssively clean, with a bit of reverb (presumably natural) and a rich, warm, organic sound. Bezuidenhout’s playing is, of course, note-perfect as well as expressive. Mozart was a composer who could be capricious in his moods, and both the compositions and the performance reflect this.
Bezuidenhout is still a young man; born in 1979, he still has much of his career ahead of him. It’s gratifying to see a young generation of musicians coming up to assume the mantle of their heralded forebears, and it’s also exciting to consider where musicians like these will choose to take classical music in the future. Whether a longtime fan of classical piano, or a casual listener (such as myself), these albums of Mozart are well worth hearing.