Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Quartets K. 478 & K. 493, Sonata K. 381


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    It probably happens to everybody, at times, to feel misunderstood or slighted. It may provide us some consolation, therefore, to know that one of the greatest musical geniuses of all times, i.e. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, was underappreciated by his contemporaries. The three works recorded in this Da Vinci Classics album demonstrate precisely this: that three absolute masterpieces of the chamber music repertoire could be misconstrued, and grossly so, by those who heard them first. Their quality as outstanding works is today by no means debatable. The Sonata for four-hand piano duet and the two Piano Quartets number among the finest examples of Mozart’s chamber style, while finding an almost prodigious balance between a symphonic concept and a certain economy of means. Above all, they represent quintessentially the joy of making music together, in a group of professionals who master their art perfectly and who, therefore, are able to simply enjoy the pleasure of excellent music-making. This experience, which Mozart himself cherished deeply, characterizes also the performance recorded here: this album, in fact, reproduces a live concert given within the framework of an Italy-wide festival, Armonie della sera, where great musicians are invited to play together. Among the ensembles performing within the festival’s framework, some may have been active for years or decades, while others may have been created for the concert’s specific occasion. In the latter case, the novelty of playing with new chamber music partners, together with their professionality, abundantly compensates for the relative freshness of the musical acquaintance, and the result is fascinating in both cases. Another distinguishing trait of Armonie della sera is the astonishing beauty of the locations where the concerts take place, and which include some of the finest venues in Italy. In this case, the performance recorded on this CD was given at the Palazzina di Caccia in Stupinigi, nearby Turin, in northern Italy. It used to be a hunting palace for the Turinese royalty, surrounded by a magnificent park where the King could ride and hunt with his court; the palace itself, and particularly the great hall where the concert took place, is rich in frescoes and stuccos. With its dazzling colours, evocative mythological scenes, and luminous spaces, this eighteenth-century manor was the perfect, spectacular setting for the programme performed by the musicians. Indeed, Stupinigi’s magnificent architecture is iconic and typical for the rococo aesthetics of the time: public venues, both sacred and secular, were conceived as theatres. Just as at theatre, the architect’s purpose was to excite wonder, amazement and curiosity; similar to theatrical scenes, planes multiply, trompe-l’oeil is abundantly employed, and fake structures, garlands, columns or façades create unceasing illusions in the beholder. This perfectly corresponds to Mozart’s own aesthetics, particularly as it is revealed in the works performed here. Most of Mozart’s instrumental works are “theatrical”. This should by no means be intended as derogatory: it is precisely here that their highest value is found. “Theatrical” here does not mean “fake” or deceiving; rather, it expresses the power of music which is capable, through its rhetorical strategies and careful handling of the compositional elements, to elicit the listeners’ surprise, to invite them to empathy, to transfer them into a fictional (but also very real) world, just as happens with Mozart’s extraordinary operas. Mozart had an innate sense for the pace and rhythm of performance, as well as for the psychological component and for the sociological understanding of human interactions and relationships. These he was able to set to music, to reproduce through music, as happens with, for instance, Le Nozze di Figaro. And the experience and resources he acquired when writing for the operatic stage he was fully able to transfer to purely instrumental music. Wordless, without scenery or acting, characters or costumes, Mozart’s chamber and solo music, as well as his Concertos, are frequently a transposition of characters and situations, of metrical structures and interactions found on the operatic stage. All this, of course, requires performers with exceptional skills. The capability to evoke the complex human and social interactions found in Mozart’s operas without the support of the theatrical props and of the salacious libretti by Da Ponte is not often found. As said before, only fully-fledged professionals can master the technical and musical demands of these works, while enjoying themselves thoroughly – as this music invites its performers to do – and offering to their audience equal pleasure. The point is that there are many more music amateurs than performers in possession of these qualities. From the artistic viewpoint, this is not a problem: quality abundantly compensates for quantity. But from the financial viewpoint, there is a difference, and a major one. Few music publishers are equally happy to sell a handful of copies to an elite of professionals, or a plethora of books to an army of amateurs. And Hoffmeister, one of the greatest music publishers of Mozart’s era, was no exception. In 1785, he had commissioned Mozart a set of three Piano Quartets; and this was in itself a daring enterprise, since the existing literature for this ensemble was minimal at the time. On the other hand, it was a calculated risk: it simply meant adding a viola to a Piano Trio (an ensemble with an established tradition), and, moreover, Mozart loved to play the viola and could certainly write something special for this instrument. And something special he did write; too much so, in fact. When Mozart obliged his publisher and sent him the first of the planned three Quartets, Hoffmeister was probably delighted by its musical beauty, but, at the same time, astonished by their difficulty. Mozart had created a small-scale Piano Concerto – indeed, “small scale” refers only to the number of players, not to the length or to the difficulty, which in fact exceeds that of several actual Concertos. This was also the opinion of a contemporaneous critic, who wrote (not without some perceptiveness): “[as performed by amateurs] it could not please: everybody yawned with boredom over the incomprehensible tintamarre of 4 instruments which did not keep together for four bars on end, and whose senseless concentus never allowed any unity of feeling; but it had to please, it had to be praised! … what a difference when this much-advertised work of art is performed with the highest degree of accuracy by four skilled musicians who have studied it carefully”. Indeed, without skill and practice this Quartet should not be attempted, lest it loses its freshness, spontaneity, and fantasy. Following the reception of the score, Hoffmeister politely rescinded the contract; Mozart seems not to have been exceedingly depressed by the fact, since he probably understood the publisher’s worries (Mozart had an excellent feeling for the audience’s tastes and knew very well the world and skills of the Viennese amateurs). Nevertheless, he went on composing another of the planned three Quartets, the magnificent Piano Quartet KV 493, also performed and recorded here. The two works are two sides of the same coin; both are written in keys which were particularly iconic for their composer. G minor, as in KV 478, was for Mozart a sombre, dark, obscure key, but also one where melancholy and sweetness were plentifully found. Different from D minor, with its transcendental overtones, G minor is a more “human” key, where the full palette of the human being’s affection can be expressed. By way of contrast, E-flat major is one of Mozart’s most luminous keys. It was connected with the world of Freemasonry, but in general it expressed a kind of solemn joy, of majestic happiness. And these qualities are perfectly embodied in this splendid Piano Quartet, which was eventually issued by Artaria in 1787. In the case of the two Quartets, therefore, it can be safely affirmed that either Hoffmeister, or the Viennese audience, or both, failed to acknowledge the greatness of Mozart’s composition. As we just saw, their claims were not fully unjustified, and, at least from the marketing viewpoint, one can hardly reproach Hoffmeister for his worries. Still, in our contemporary eyes, it remains scandalous that a publisher who had Mozart sign a contract for three works of these Quartets’ standing could freely renounce such a privilege! Almost fifteen years before the Quartets, when Mozart was still a teenager, he had written the splendid Sonata for four-hand piano duet which is known today as KV 381. Such is the superb quality of this piece, surprisingly advanced and mature if one considers the young age of its composer, that for years it had been postdated by many scholars, attributing it to the Vienna period of Mozart’s full maturity. Instead, it had been written in Salzburg, after the Mozarts came back from their second Italian journey, in 1771-2. Mozart had written it for himself and for his beloved sister Nannerl; together, they had toured since their earliest childhood and still performed for the sovereigns and for the nobility throughout Europe. Now, as both were nearing adulthood, the “child prodigy” card was starting to be useless, and both had to establish themselves as mature musicians. English musicologist Charles Burney had heard the siblings in their childhood. Now he had to rely on the testimony of the English diplomat Louis de Vismes, who heard the duo and whose evaluation of their duo performance is far from enthusiastic. Burney relates: “By a letter from Saltzburg, dated last November, I am informed, that this young man, who has so, much astonished all Europe by his premature knowledge and performance during infancy, is still a great master of his instrument; my correspondent went to his father’s house to hear him and his sister play duets on the same harpsichord; but she is now at her summit, which is not marvellous; and, says the writer of the letter, ‘if I may judge of the music which I heard of his composition, in the orchestra, he is one further instance of early fruit being more extraordinary than excellent’”. That De Vismes was grossly mistaken will be clear to all those who listen to this splendid, radiant, majestic and playful Sonata, whose symphonic style predates some of the most original ideas of the adult composer. Together, these works invite us to the pure delight and enjoyment of a visual and aural contemplation, surrounded by the theatrical palace of Stupinigi, and with the dazzling brilliancy and liveliness of three of Mozart’s masterpieces.
    Chiara Bertoglio © 2023


    Marco Sollini: Italian pianist with a solid musical education was definited by Claudio Scimone “a great poet of the keyboard”. He has performed in some of the most important concert halls all over the world, as Salle Cortot of Paris, Musikverein Golden Hall of Wien, Concertgebouw of Amsterdam, Smetana Hall of Prague, Main Hall of the Cairo Opera House, Mailowsky Palace and Caterina Palace of Saint Petersburg, Solti Hall of the Liszt Accademy in Budapest, Manoel Theatre of Malta, Grossesaal of Mozarteum in Salzburg and others. He performed as soloist in recital and in prestigious Orchestras, as Dohnanyi Symphonic Orchestra and MAV in Budapest, Hungarian State Symphony Orchestra, Stuttgard Symphony Orchestra, Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, Serbian Radio Television Symphony Orchestra, I Solisti Veneti, Sanremo Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra Metropolitana Città di Bari, I Solisti Aquilani, Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, Ciudad de Elche Symphony Orchestra, Bohuslav Martinů Philharmonic Orchestra, Saint Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra, Cairo Symphony Orchestra, Kroatisches Kammerorchester, Euro Sinfonietta Wien, Kharkiv Philharmonic Orchestra and many others. He has a large discography with around 40 CDs devoted to the music of Bach, Kozeluch, Clementi, Mozart, Schubert, Chopin, Liszt, Thalberg, Poulenc, Rachmaninov, Rimskij-Korsakov, Menotti, Sollini. His discography also inclused the first world of Piano Music of Leoncavallo, Puccini, Giordano, Mascagni, Bellini, Verdi, Persiani, Offenbach. His four CDs devoted to Rossini Piano Music have been definited the “reference edition” by the Rossini German Society (Deutsche Rossini Gesellschaft). He has worked as contributing editor with the Publishing house Boccaccini & Spada for the complete edition of Puccini’s, Mascagni’s, Giordano’s, Leoncavallo’s, Bellini’s piano music, and other previously unpublished chamber compositions of Rossini and Mascagni.
    He plays in duo with Salvatore Barbatano and he has cooperated with several chamber ensembles and with important Artists such as Bruno Canino, Antonio Ballista, Quartetto della Scala, Simonide Braconi, Cremona Quartet, Francesco Manara, Alain Meunier, Claudio Scimone, Elena Zaniboni, Fabrizio Meloni, Maxence Larrieu, Fabio Armiliato, Ugo Pagliai, Paola Pitagora, Paola Gassman and many others. Since 2014 he has been teaching at the AFAM – Superiur Institute of Musical Studies “O. Vecchi – A. Tonelli” of Modena-Carpi.
    He hold several master classes at the Arts Academy of Rome, Lima State Conservatory, Tirana Arts Academy, Winston-Salem and Davidson Colleges in USA, Izmir Conservatory, Bogotà Conservatory and Superior Royal Conservatory Reina Sofia of Madrid. He was in the jury of several piano competition, such as the “Roma” International Piano Competition, Ars Kosova Music Competition of Pristina (Kosovo), Aram Khachaturian International Competition of Yerevan, Coppa Pianisti of Osimo, Premio Internazionale Pianistico Alexander Scriabin of Grosseto, Cleveland Youth Piano Competition. He received in Campidoglio of Rome the prize “Marchigiani dell’anno 2001” for his international artistic activity.
    He is president and artistic director of the “Marche Musica” Association, founder and artistic director of the international music festival “Armonie della sera”, wich has been organizing public concerts in the most evocative places in the Marche region and around all Italy.

    Francesco Fiore is an accomplished viola player who has won numerous awards and competitions. He has collaborated with many important Italian and foreign musicians, including S. Accardo and B. Giuranna. He has recorded numerous CDs for Decca, Rca, and other labels. He was the first viola of the Rome Opera House Orchestra for 25 years and has also held the same role with the National Academy of Santa Cecilia Orchestra, the La Scala Theater Orchestra in Milan, the National RAI Orchestra in Turin, and the Italian Chamber Orchestra.

    Gabriele Pieranunzi is a highly acclaimed violinist who has won numerous awards and competitions including the N. Paganini in Genoa, T. Varga in Sion, and R. Romanini in Brescia. He has performed at many prestigious venues across Italy and abroad, collaborating with musicians such as J. Tate and V. Fedoseyev. His discography includes the Kurt Weill's concerto op.12 for violin and winds and the complete set of Mendelssohn's Piano Quartets.

    Luigi Puxeddu is a highly regarded cellist who has performed as a soloist in prestigious concert halls around the world, including Teatro alla Scala and Vienna Musikverein. He has collaborated with many important Italian orchestras and conductors. He was the solo cellist of the Solisti Veneti for many years and has recorded over 30 CDs of Luigi Boccherini's music. He is also a cello teacher at the F. Venezze Conservatory.


    Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: (b Salzburg, 27 Jan 1756; d Vienna, 5 Dec 1791). Austrian composer, son of Leopold Mozart. His style essentially represents a synthesis of many different elements, which coalesced in his Viennese years, from 1781 on, into an idiom now regarded as a peak of Viennese Classicism. The mature music, distinguished by its melodic beauty, its formal elegance and its richness of harmony and texture, is deeply coloured by Italian opera though also rooted in Austrian and south German instrumental traditions. Unlike Haydn, his senior by 24 years, and Beethoven, his junior by 15, he excelled in every medium current in his time. He may thus be regarded as the most universal composer in the history of Western music.