Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Duo Sonatas Volume 5 (Duo Amadè; violin: Catherine Mackintosh; fortepiano: Geoffrey Govier) Review

Album. Released 2012.  

BBC Review

The duo’s individualistic, historically informed approach can be extremely illuminating.

Graham Rogers 2012

This is the fifth volume of Duo Amadè’s survey of the complete Mozart violin sonatas. Anyone who has been collecting the previous instalments will know what to expect by now: fresh, invigorating period-instrument performances which value crisp articulation and emphatic phrasing over modern notions of tonal beauty.

If you have not encountered this duo of experienced early music exponents before (violinist Catherine Mackintosh and fortepianist Geoffrey Govier) you may find that their uncompromising approach to Mozart takes some getting used to. It is at its most extreme in the Allegro first movement of K.380, the sonata that begins the album. The ear-grabbing opening chords are rendered in abrasive, crashing fashion that, on repetition (the motif recurs throughout the movement) can appear bad-tempered and even ugly. Even the movement's more lyrical passages have a percussive edge, with distinctly articulated accompanying figures and emphatic melodic phrasing. The slow movement eschews tenderness in a modern understanding of the term – but here, as elsewhere, emotion is communicated through highly developed rhetorical language. Arguably, this comes closer to what Mozart may have heard in his head when composing than most modern interpretations, and can be more powerfully effective.

Generally, Duo Amadè’s preoccupation with details of phrasing is tempered with a natural fluidity, preventing the performances from being bogged down – although there is a marked lack of buoyancy to the finale of K.380. In other hands (Rachel Podger and Gary Cooper on Channel Classics; Hiro Kurosaki and Linda Nicholson on Erato) this Rondeau dances with care-free abandon, but Duo Amadè’s studied, heavy-set demeanour gives it a disconcertingly serious air – which does mean, however, that its periodic lighter episodes make more impact.

The performances of the other two sonatas on the album are less severe. There is a more spontaneous, joyous air about the main first-movement Allegro of K.454, and its finale is winningly bright and lively. The slow movement is radiantly song-like, despite conspicuous emphasis on certain details of articulation. The Duo is at its most appealing in the genial Andantino cantabile opening movement of K.547, which most successfully accommodates the players’ stylistic designs within a more familiar framework.

It is well worth bearing with Duo Amadè, as its individualistic, historically informed approach can be extremely illuminating – and you may find yourself subsequently listening to modern-instrument performances with different ears.

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