Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Selected Violin Sonatas

Media Review / Comparison

2014-07-29 — Original posting (on Blogger)
2014-11-12 — Re-posting as is (WordPress)
2016-07-22 — Brushed up for better readability
2022-09-05 — Added life data for the prominent artists

Table of Contents

Introduction / The Recordings

The purpose of this blog post is to provide some quick insights into two recordings with works for piano and violin by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791):

I compare these recordings with CDs that I already had in my library, see further below. I only discuss and compare pieces from the two new CDs.

As a “prelude” to this post, I already compared the 6 Variations on “Au bord de la fontaine“, K.360/374b in the recording by Petra Müllejans and Kristian Bezuidenhout with the that by David Oistrakh (1908 – 1974) and Paul Badura-Skoda (1927 – 2019). See the Listening Diary 2014-04-05 for detail and general information on these two recording sets.

Petra Müllejans, Kristian Bezuidenhout

Mozart: Sonatas for fortepiano & violin, Müllejans/Bezuidenhout, CD cover

Mozart: Sonatas for fortepiano and violin (Sonatas K.296, 379/373a, 454, Variations K.360/374b)

Petra Müllejans, Kristian Bezuidenhout

harmonia mundi usa, HMU 907494 (CD, stereo); ℗ / © 2009

Mozart: Sonatas for fortepiano & violin, Müllejans/Bezuidenhout, UPC-A barcode
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This is the only “truly HIP” (historically informed playing) recording in this comparison, with a period violin (Joseph Clotz, Mittenwald, ca. 1700, gut strings) and bow, and with a fortepiano (Derek Adlam, Welbeck, 1987, after Anton Walter, Wien, ca. 1795) — for details see the Listening Diary 2014-04-05. This recording was made in 2008.

Christian Tetzlaff, Lars Vogt

Mozart: Sonatas for piano & violin, Tetzlaff/Vogt, CD cover

Mozart: Sonatas for piano and violin (K.379/373a, 454, 526)

Christian Tetzlaff, Lars Vogt

ondine ODE 1204-2 (CD, stereo); ℗ / © 2012
Booklet: 16 pp. (e/d)

Mozart: Sonatas for piano & violin, Tetzlaff/Vogt, EAN-13 barcode
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Christian Tetzlaff plays a recent violin by Peter Greiner (one of the few violin makers that produce instruments that can compete with the famous instruments from the 18th century, such as those made in Cremona), with a modern / French bow. Lars Vogt (1970 – 2022) plays a modern concert grand. This CD was recorded in 2011.

David Oistrakh, Paul Badura-Skoda

Mozart: Violin sonatas & variations, Oistrakh/Badura-Skoda, CD/DVD cover

Mozart: Violin sonatas (CD: Sonatas K.306, 454, 481, Variations K.360/374b; DVD: Sonatas K.454, 481, Variations K.360/374b)

David Oistrakh, Paul Badura-Skoda

naïve andante, AN2200 (CDs, stereo; DVD PAL + NTSC); ℗ 1972 / © 2005

Mozart: Violin sonatas & variations, Oistrakh/Badura-Skoda, UPC-A barcode
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For general comments on this recording see the Listening Diary 2014-04-05. This is a live recording. It was made during a concert in the Stiftskirche Ossiach, on 1972-08-09; the CD is associated with a DVD, recorded at Schloss Klesheim near Salzburg, recorded in August 1972 (not a live concert, mono); the sonata K.454 discussed in this post is present both on the CD as well as on the DVD. Oistrakh played a violin by Stradivarius from 1705, Badura-Skoda plays on a Bösendorfer 290 Imperial.

Arthur Grumiaux, Clara Haskil

Haskil spielt Mozart, Haskil/Paumgartner/Grumiaux/Fricsay/Sacher, CD cover

Haskil plays Mozart (piano concertos K.271, 415, 459, 466, 488, 491, 595; Rondo K.386; piano sonatas K.280, 330; piano variations K.265, 573; sonatas for piano & violin K.301, 304, 376, 378, 454, 526)
Arthur Grumiaux, Clara Haskil
(Rudolf Baumgartner, Ferenc Fricsay, Igor Markevich, Bernhard Paumgartner, Paul Sacher)

DG / Universal 442 9701 (6 CDs, mono / stereo); ℗ 1954 – 1961 / © 2007

Haskil spielt Mozart, Haskil/Paumgartner/Grumiaux/Fricsay/Sacher, UPC-A barcode
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This is a recording collection presenting Clara Haskil‘s (1895 – 1960) Mozart legacy, with (some of) her recordings of piano concerti, piano sonatas and variations, plus her recordings of Mozart violin sonatas with Arthur Grumiaux (1921 – 1986). For a related post (covering Mozart’s Rondo in A for Piano & Orchestra, K.386) see the Listening Diary 2014-04-08. The violin sonatas were recorded (mono) in 1956.

My Comments on the Recordings / Interpretations

Sonata for Piano and Violin in C major, K.296

The Movements

This sonata is only present in the recording with Petra Müllejans and Kristian Bezuidenhout (first CD above); for general remarks on the instruments and the artists see the Listening Diary 2014-04-05. Just as all other sonatas discussed here, this sonata has three movements:

  1. Allegro vivace (4/4)
    This is a classical sonata movement; the artists play this with about 1/4 = 148, a tempo that feels very natural for this movement & theme, the exposition is repeated, some subtle extra ornaments are added in repeat sections (second pass of the exposition, recapitulation / Coda). See also the general comments below.
  2. Andante sostenuto (3/4)
    This is played here with 1/4 = 60: a wonderfully calm, serene, very touching movement! The artists observe all repeats, again enriching them with some nice, extra ornaments. At the first fermata, the violin plays a short, perfectly fitting cadenza. The second fermata is just filled with a single note by the piano. The continuation does not involve the violin.
  3. Rondo: Allegro (2/2, alla breve)
    Suitable tempo with 1/2 = 96, with the appropriate “alla breve feeling”. Again, all repeats are observed, extra ornaments very tastefully and perfectly adequately added. For the minore section in the center, Kristian Bezuidenhout suitably enables the moderator, switching to a darker, softer tone.

General Remarks

Beyond these mostly “technical” remarks and the statements already made in the Listening Diary 2014-04-05, what more can I say? For me, this is simply the perfect rendition of this sonata:

  • I like the “living”, slightly grainy tone of the violin (Joseph Clotz, Mittenwald, ca. 1700). The violin is of course played with gut strings and a baroque bow. Petra Müllejans plays with light articulation (not the dense, “sticky” tone of many modern / recent violin virtuosi), with very restricted use of vibrato (really just to enhance key notes in a phrase). Where she uses vibrato, it is very inconspicuous, often hardly noticeable. I also like Petra Müllejans unpretentious attitude in this entire recording.
  • Of all the fortepiani I have heard so far, the instruments by Anton Walter, Vienna are my clear favorites, especially for music before 1800. Kristian Bezuidenhout plays a replica by Derek Adlam, Welbeck (1987, after an instrument from around 1795). It provides light articulation, fast action, so much more transparency and richness in sound than any modern concert grand. With a’ = 430 Hz, the instrument is tuned slightly below the “current standard” (a’ = 440 or higher).
  • On top of that, these two instruments provide a natural balance between the two parts. This again is impossible to obtain with modern instruments, let alone with all the transparency, lightness, and the richness in sound (even just from the fortepiano alone). The artists properly observe the dynamic annotations, and with the perfect, natural balance, there is no need for any two artists to “play up” or “show off” at any point
  • The two artists are perfectly in tune. I can’t find discrepancies in agogigs, articulation and phrasing, and of course, the rhythmic coordination is flawless.

Conclusion, Rating

I have no hesitations giving this a rating of 5.0

Even if you think you don’t like HIP playing on the violin (little or no vibrato, the rough sound of gut strings), you should give this recording a try!

Sonata for Piano and Violin in G major, K.379 (373a)

This sonata is present in both new recordings, i.e., with Petra Müllejans and Kristian Bezuidenhout (first CD above), and with Christian Tetzlaff and Lars Vogt (second CD above).

Movements, Timing

If we take the track splitting as indication, the sonata has three movements (I’m listing the track durations as well):

  1. Adagio (2/4) — (attacca)
    Tetzlaff: 5’29” — Müllejans: 6’08”
  2. Allegro (3/4)
    Tetzlaff: 5’49” — Müllejans: 4’20”
  3. Tema: Andantino cantabile (2/4) — Var. I – IV — Var. V: AdagioAllegretto
    Tetzlaff: 10’04” — Müllejans: 9’30”

but Mozart apparently did not label these as “movements”, i.e., the first two could also viewed as one singe movement with a tempo / signature change in the middle.

Metronome & Rating Comparison

To help understanding the tempo differences between the two recordings, I have prepared a little table:

Mozart: Violin sonata K.379, rating/M.M. comparison table

In the metronome columns, colors indicate the relative tempo (blue = slower, green = faster), the rating values are between 1 and 5, as usual.

Comments, by Movement

Some comments on these interpretations, by movement:

I. Adagio (2/4)

Tetzlaff / Vogt

The introduction in the piano is played real nicely, with careful articulation and phrasing, the tempo calm, adagio; unfortunately, later in the movement, there are times when the tempo in the piano appears to run away. Ever so slightly, but still noticeable, and definitely not good in an adagio movement. The repeat of the first part is a 1:1 copy of the first run: a missed opportunity.

The acoustic balance is OK in this movement. Christian Tetzlaff appears to try adopting some HIP playing / attitude: his vibrato is very moderate, maybe at a mid-position between “true HIP” (vibrato only for highlighting select — mostly long — notes) and traditional, romantic playing (vibrato pretty much everywhere). I have mixed feelings about this solution. However, I’m a bit puzzled about his tone: it’s strangely dampened, often rough (more so in other movements, see below), “understating” (except in passages where he blows up the vibrato); overall, I’m a bit disappointed by this recording. I expected more, based on Tetzlaff’s other recordings in my collection.

Müllejans / Bezuidenhout

Almost the same tempo (a tad slower, calmer), but definitely better tempo control (more demanding at a slower tempo), and the repeat of the first part is definitely not a 1:1 replica! One may consider this a detail, but it definitely adds value to the interpretation, and I can’t imagine Mozart playing twice the very same thing, being the spontaneous person that he appears to have been. Apart from this, all of the remarks made above for K.296 apply here as well. I love this performance! I would concede that the modern concert grand can better distinguish between legato and staccato playing. On the fortepiano, that difference is more subtle, but I can easily live with that, given the extra richness in sound from the fortepiano!

II. Allegro (3/4)

Tetzlaff / Vogt

The movement starts with a turn on the first note in bars 1, 2, 4, and 6. That turn is not marked sf. The turn itself should be enough to highlight these notes. Yet, these artists play a heavy extra sforzato, which makes their interpretation sound rather clumsy. In this movement, the violin sounds particularly rough (sometimes even a bit careless!). That’s not really a good fit for the smooth sound of the modern concert grand.

Overall, one can hardly call this a balanced recording, given the “understating” sound that Tetzlaff is producing: the recording is dominated by the piano. Both parts of the movement are repeated here. This follows the notation, however, the second repeat is probably just added out of tradition. Given that this is a regular sonata movement, I don’t think one should repeat the evolution and recapitulation sections, even less so if repeats are 1:1 copies, as here: this makes listeners hear both themes 4 (almost identical) times.

Müllejans / Bezuidenhout

No extra sforzati on the turns (except maybe a little bit in the evolution part), and indeed, extra highlighting is not needed at all. At an almost identical tempo (a tad faster in the introduction for piano solo), the movement sounds lighter, not clumsy at all, but playful, the balance between the instruments is natural, the recording remains transparent even in busy parts, without a need for the violin to play any louder. Only the first part (exposition) is repeated (with the appropriate, nice little extra ornaments every here and there), and at the end of the evolution part (at the fermata preceding the a tempo), the piano adds a short (1-bar) cadenza — very nice!

III. Andantino cantabile (2/4)

Tetzlaff / Vogt

In the theme, the violin sometimes appears like mere decoration, the piano dominates. The first variation (piano solo) is maybe the best part of this movement with these artists, played with sufficient subtlety and agogics. The second Variation suffers from some superficialities in the articulation in both instruments, but mostly in the violin which appears to be thin in tone.

Variation 3 is partly overblown in the violin (trying to beat the concert grand?), in variation 4, the violin is sometimes close to get buried in the piano sound. Variation 5 (pizzicato) sounds nice, but is way too slow (1/4 = 20). The piano is playing a “nice, long melody”. However, these are ornaments, and the actual melodic component is stretched out beyond sight. The return of the theme is marked Allegretto, contrasting to the Andantino cantabile at the beginning. Both interpretations translate this into “very gradually faster” (virtually the same tempo). Indeed, the figurations in the coda don’t allow a much faster tempo. All repeats are observed.

Müllejans / Bezuidenhout

Tempo relations: the theme is a tad faster here, and the return of the theme is another tad faster (keeping the same relation, 72 / 74 vs. 70 / 72 with Tetzlaff). Variations 3 and 4 are noticeably faster (66 and 60, vs. 60 and 54), variation 5 (pizzicato) is substantially faster, see below. The repeats in the theme are essentially literal (the theme is varied in the 5 variations that follow, after all). In variation 1 (piano solo), Bezuidenhout’s playing is so much more “talking”, rich in agogics, articulation and differentiation. There is simply no comparison to Lars Vogt’s interpretation, even ignoring the superior transparency and acoustic balance with the fortepiano in this music.

Variation 3 has a much better tempo, much more vivid in character, joyful. Again, the violin has no problem balancing the sound of the fortepiano. Similarly in variation 4, the tempo is much better, making this a moody, but less tragic section. The biggest contract to Tetzlaff / Vogt is in variation 5, which now appears with the right tempo, ornaments played as such. The fortepiano has no problem articulation all the “black stuff” (note values down to 1/256!), and the pizzicati on the violin can still be followed easily. And the fortepiano shines up again in the coda, in those fast, joyful demisemiquaver figurations: very nice, overall!

Conclusions / Rating:

An interesting detail: Christian Tetzlaff appears to be standing to the left of the piano (so he can see the pianist’s fingers on the keyboard, but the pianist needs to turn his head in order to make eye contact with his partner), while Petra Müllejans is standing in front of the fortepiano. She can’t see the keyboard, but this makes it far easier for the two artists to establish eye contact, and Kristian Bezuidenhout can easily watch every movement of his partner!

  • Tetzlaff / Vogt: 3.0 (3 / 3 / 3) — I’m disappointed, really: I expected more! In parts, I get the feeling that this was recorded with limited preparation, as well as limited efforts by the recording team.
  • Müllejans / Bezuidenhout: 5.0 (5 / 5 / 5) — need I say more? Even for people who dislike HIP recordings, this should be vastly superior than the other recording!

Sonata for Piano and Violin in B♭ major, K.454

The Recordings

This sonata is present in all four recordings presented above, with

Movements, Timing

The sonata has three movements:

  1. Largo — Allegro (4/4)
    Grumiaux: 7’16” — Oistrakh: 7’13” / 7’17” — Tetzlaff: 7’14” — Müllejans: 7’52”
  2. Andante (3/4)
    Grumiaux: 8’09” — Oistrakh: 8’24” / 8’28” — Tetzlaff: 6’50” — Müllejans: 8’06”
  3. Allegretto (2/2, alla breve)
    Grumiaux: 6’36” — Oistrakh: 6’26” / 6’48 — Tetzlaff: 7’00” — Müllejans: 7’12”

With David Oistrakh / Paul Badura-Skoda, the timing on the CD (without applause) and the one on the DVD (second duration above) is very close (definitely for the first two movements), the two recordings were made in close proximity (time-wise), so only the CD recording is discussed here. Note also that the sound on that Oistrakh DVD is mono only.

Metronome & Rating Comparison

The following table gives an indication about tempo relations, and it shows my ratings for each track. See the comments below for details / explanations:

Mozart: Violin sonata K.454, rating/M.M. comparison table

Comments, by Movement

The rating values are between 1 and 5, as usual. Some comments on these interpretations, by movement:

I. Largo — Allegro (4/4)

Grumiaux / Haskil

Arthur Grumiaux plays as he always did, focusing on a bright, smooth, big tone, with a fair amount of permanent vibrato (with a tendency towards nervousness), also tending to play legato, with the occasional portamento. The violin has no problem bein heard next to the the concert grand. Though occasionally, its tone is a tad sharp (definitely compared to an instrument with gut strings!). Clara Haskil’s playing is very clear (as much as one can judge this in a mono recording), and almost always well controlled. One can feel that these artists were duo partners with several years of shared experience. The Allegro part is rather fast; the tempo as such is OK, but as a listener I frequently feel pushed, mostly from the violin part, but occasionally also in the piano.

Oistrakh / Badura-Skoda

David Oistrakh plays with rather light articulation (not nearly as legato as Grumiaux), using a “natural” vibrato: not too strong (for a conventional performance at the time of the recording), not too nervous. Though, his performance feels like “understating” (the liner notes state that he appeared almost nervous and shy in this concert, one of the few occasions when he was playing in the Western world). He does not try to excel with his glorious, big tone that we know from his recordings of the great violin concertos.

The piano part occasionally appears to reach the limits of agility. I’m not sure whether that’s the mechanics of the instrument, limitations of the pianist’s ability, or maybe limited preparation? The two artists certainly did not form a permanent duo. Quite to the contrary: time for preparation must have been limited. Clearly, there’s a tendency for the piano to dominate, sound-wise.

Tetzlaff / Vogt

A pretty good recording, a fairly balanced approach, though the piano has a tendency to dominate. In the Allegro part, this recording is not pushing the tempo as Grumiaux / Haskil, with a few exceptions in the piano. I quite like Lars Vogt’s occasional, tiny “hold-ups” for highlighting accents, and particularly the violin exploits a vastly bigger dynamic range compared to the two recordings above. To me, Christian Tetzlaff’s vibrato is sometimes on the fringe of sounding nervous. But overall, I quite like this recording.

Müllejans / Bezuidenhout

Once more a recording that opens new dimensions, already in the first few chords, which expose the warm, soft tone of the gut strings, the natural acoustic balance with the fortepiano, and the latter’s transparency, agility, and richness in sound (see my other comments on this CD, above and in the Listening Diary 2014-04-05). In order not to repeat myself too much, just a few highlights:

In the violin part (Largo), the opening gesture ends on two strings (b + d’), and Petra Müllejans resists the “natural” temptation to let the upper note dominate that chord. She starts with both chords, but then holds the b (g-string) a little longer. That’s an amazing contrast to what one would expect. But she would of course not fall into a stereotype. The ending chord in bar #3 (c’ + e’ flat) appears “the traditional way”. In general, these artists avoid stereotypes and 1:1 repeats by occasionally adding ornaments here and there (not nearly as much as one would do for baroque compositions, of course) — and these ornaments are so much “in style” that an inexperienced listener would likely not even notice them.

The transition to the Allegro is facilitated by a trill on the last Largo chord, followed nice little cadenza that raises the expectations for the things to come and avoids the abrupt transition after the general rest: very well done! Needless to say that in the Allegro part, the fortepiano can fully play out its agility (no need to rush any time, it’s all under full control) and the richness in colors. Bezuidenhout’s masterful play with agogics and phrasing is simply amazing!

II. Andante (3/4)

Grumiaux / Haskil

As also in the sonata K.526 (see below), the slow movement is definitely too slow: an Andante in quavers at best, the feel for the 3/4 is lost. Grumiaux is (beautifully) elaborating on every small ornament and figure. However, hereby the underlying melody gets out of sight. His strong, fast vibrato does not help either. The one positive thing to say here is that the artists keep the calm pace throughout the movement.

Oistrakh / Badura-Skoda

This is even a tad slower than Grumiaux / Haskil, too slow for an Andante in 3/4. At least, the 3/4 signature can still be felt. Oistrakh’s vibrato isn’t nearly as strong and fast as Grumiaux’. It feels much more natural. On the other hand, Oistrakh is once more understating, playing “sotto voce” in a way, throughout the movement.

This reminds me of a concert experience that my wife and I made at the Bach Festival in Schaffhausen / Switzerland in the early 80’s, when we attended a concert by Peter Schreier who was singing Bach’s Schemelli-Lieder from the organ balcony of the Münster (main church) in Schaffhausen: I was definitely a fan of Schreier’s voice and regarded him a worthy successor of the late Fritz Wunderlich. We did not hear Schreier’s full volume and brilliance that evening, at all: to my amazement (and maybe a little disappointment?) he sang the entire evening sotto voce only. Though of course his voice had such projection that it could be heard entirely well throughout the fairly big church…

Tetzlaff / Vogt

These artists play the slow movement distinctly faster than the two recordings above. To me, this now is an Andante in 3/4 (except that one can of course hardly walk in 3/4 measures!). This comes at a price, however: sometimes, this interpretation is slightly nervous (especially in the piano), losing the calm pace that (I think) should prevail here. It’s mostly just moments where I feel slightly pushed: it’s maybe a bit hard to appear introverted when constantly having to make sure one does not lose the tempo? Occasionally, Tetzlaff’s vibrato is slightly overblown.

Müllejans / Bezuidenhout

Two things amazed me particularly in this movement. For one, despite my preference and experience with HIP recordings, it’s still fascinating to realize that one can play such a, introverted slow movement (and not a short one!) with virtually no vibrato (there are maybe a handful notes where one can just about sense a vibrato). Then, it’s the artists’ approach to tempo: they start of at around 1/4 = 53 (almost as fast as Tetzlaff / Vogt), playing a true Andante in 3/4. But then, they let the tempo float, applying a wide span of agogics, and yet, one never has the feeling that they lose tempo control, it all sounds totally natural.

Interestingly, with its light articulation, the fortepiano does not sound agitated in fast figures and ornaments. Very nice: Kristian Bezuidenhout of course takes advantage of the moderator to achieve a darker, dampened tone in some sections. That’s an effect that was natural at Mozart’s time, but which of course could not be achieved on the modern piano: the effect of the shift pedal or even closing the lid (which can’t be done on-the-fly anyway) is a far cry from the alteration provided by the moderator! Overall, it’s a fresh approach to this music, and it totally works: excellent!

III. Allegretto (2/2, alla breve)

Grumiaux / Haskil

The dynamic annotation is not always followed (e.g., the initial p bars are played f); the tempo is maybe at the upper limit (rather Allegro than Allegretto). I often feel (just a little) pushed, but the two artists prove to be experienced duo partners, showing excellent coordination throughout. The one thing that irritates me is Grumiaux’ nervous vibrato, which possibly contributes to the overall, latent unrest.

Oistrakh / Badura-Skoda

Same tempo as Grumiaux / Haskil (rather Allegro than Allegretto), but with much less (and more natural) vibrato and lighter articulation. That has the effect that the piece sounds more relaxed

Tetzlaff / Vogt

Good playing, good coordination, articulation, and good tempo: really an Allegretto, not Allegro. The slower tempo is maybe a bit harder to control: there are moments when the interpretation loses drive. My main criticism is the balance: the piano is way too loud and prominent, and not transparent enough: help, we need a fortepiano here!!

Müllejans / Bezuidenhout

Ah — all it takes is a fortepiano, and all of a sudden there is balance between the two instruments, and also balance and transparency between the bass and the right hand on the piano! the tempo is the same as with Tetzlaff / Vogt, but here it sounds so relaxed, yet joyful, vivid, and it never loses drive, even though plenty of agogic play! The performance features excellent and very detailed articulation: it’s obviously carefully coordinated between the two artists. Little variations in the articulation are imitated properly.

The artists add two (short, 1-bar) cadenzas: the fortepiano add one leading into the first return of the Rondo theme, the violin does one for the last return of that ritornello. For one single bar, the piano (left hand alone) part reaches down to contra-F, which must be at the left edge of the keyboard. Bezuidenhout carefully articulates / exposes this. It (just about) still sounds! Sure, on a Bösendorfer 290 Imperial, these notes have far more sound, body/volume — but then, they are also far less “special”!

Conclusions / Rating:

  • Grumiaux / Haskil: 2.3 (3 / 2 / 2) — As much as I like Clara Haskil’s playing in general: this recording is dominated by Grumiaux and his strong vibrato. That makes it hard for me to like, let alone recommend this! You may be interested in this because of its historic value, though.
  • Oistrakh / Badura-Skoda: 3.0 (3 / 3 / 3) — I prefer this over Grumiaux / Haskil, mostly because of the more acceptable vibrato. But this is miles from recent HIP recordings, especially in terms of agogics, “speaking” expression / articulation.
  • Tetzlaff / Vogt: 3.7 (4 / 3 / 4) — A reasonable, if not good, conventional recording. If only it wasn’t so much out of acoustic balance! In the realm of “conventional” interpretations, there are likely better recordings.
  • Müllejans / Bezuidenhout: 5.0 (5 / 5 / 5)My favorite recording, no doubt — in line with the other recordings on this excellent CD!

Sonata for Piano and Violin in A major, K.526

Movements, Timing

This sonata is present in the recording with Christian Tetzlaff and Lars Vogt (second CD above), and it is also included in the CD set “Haskil plays Mozart” (last CD above), with Arthur Grumiaux and Clara Haskil playing. The sonata has three movements, in the traditional scheme fast – slow – fast:

  1. Molto allegro (6/8)
    Tetzlaff: 6’37” — Grumiaux: 6’29”
  2. Andante (4/4)
    Tetzlaff: 9’30” — Grumiaux: 8’21”
  3. Presto (2/2)
    Tetzlaff: 6’49” — Grumiaux: 6’53”

Metronome & Rating Comparison

To help understanding the tempo differences between the two recordings, I have again prepared a little table (the M.M. numbers in the first movement are for 3/8 units, i.e., two beats per bar):

Mozart: Violin sonata K.526, rating/M.M. comparison table

In the metronome columns, colors indicate the relative tempo (blue = slower, green = faster), the rating values are between 1 and 5, as usual.

Comments, by Movement

Some comments on these interpretations, by movement:

I. Molto allegro (6/8)

Tetzlaff / Vogt

One of the best tracks on this CD, with the occasional dominance of the concert grand, and the violin tone is sometimes a bit rough. Vibrato is used selectively (but there are still moments where it is rather strong, tending towards nervous). In the evolution part, there are a few instances where the flow is unnecessarily broken: after a violin bar, the piano reenters with a f chord, and that chord is sometimes a tad late, for no obvious reason. It’s almost as if the pianists took a split second to realize that it’s his turn. There may be instances where such a delay is helpful and welcome (the slow movement has such instances, and there they are OK), but here it somehow upsets my ear. Still, it’s a good recording in general.

Grumiaux / Haskil

As a recording, this appears to have better acoustic balance between the two instruments than Tetzlaff’s. But that is offset by the fact that it’s a mono recording, which ,limits the transparency. I’m not sure whether that’s also affected by the sound engineer — but the performance features rather limited dynamic variation (rarely a true p). For HIP lovers, Grumiaux’ vibrato will be rather strong and fast — and of course, it’s ubiquitous. This is a good, but definitely conventional interpretation: recent recordings are more detailed in articulation and agogics. The tempo is a tad faster than with the recording above. Maybe it’s very slightly too fast, as there are some slight superficialities in the piano towards the end. Both recordings (correctly) repeat the exposition only, not the second part.

II. Andante (4/4)

Tetzlaff / Vogt

Good tempo (really an andante in 4/4) and dynamics. I like the sotto voce segments in the violin. The first part is repeated, the second part is not (formally, this is another sonata movement, after all). Another good track on this CD.

Grumiaux / Haskil

That interpretation unfortunately is pretty much off . The tempo is truly glacial, an Adagio at best, it looks as if they interpreted this as an Andante based on quavers rather than crotchets. The bar / 4/4 structure is lost entirely. Contrasting to this, the notation is in groups of four quavers, almost indicating alla breve! This stretches out the melodies beyond recognition, and Grumiaux’ strong vibrato doesn’t help either. At least, they don’t play a repeat, as this would make this movement longer than the other two combined. It’s still nice music, of course, but definitely not the composer’s intent.

III. Presto (2/2)

Tetzlaff / Vogt

Not as good as the other two movements. Maybe the tempo is a tad too fast? There are occasional coordination issues (minor, though, but still: this is a studio recording, after all), or maybe lack of coordination in the use of agogics. Also there’s the occasional superficiality and some slight tempo alterations that I don’t quite understand. Parts that feel slightly faster, making me feel “pushed” (different takes?). Then, there’s the question of acoustic balance and transparency: more than the other movements, this Presto would really benefit from a fortepiano, in that it would offer vastly more clarity / transparency and detail. On the concert grand, the lid needs to be half-closed in order not to overwhelm the violin. At least, that’s what this recording makes me think. But (half-)closing the lid doesn’t help the clarity.

Grumiaux / Haskil

The artists probably felt that Presto implies pushing the tempo, to a point where superficialities start to pull in. I often feel pushed, and occasionally one gets the (slight) feeling that the tempo tends to run away. As this is a mono recording, transparency (especially with the piano) is even more of an issue that in the Tetzlaff / Vogt recording. All that said, both artists play this movement with astounding virtuosity.

Conclusions / Rating:

  • Tetzlaff / Vogt: 3.7 (4 / 4 / 3) — A fairly good, conventional recording
  • Grumiaux / Haskil: 2.7 (3 / 2 / 3) — A historic recording treasure, of course, good recording in the outer movements, unfortunately flawed in the slow movement.

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