Mozart’s four-hand piano music ‘unwrapped’ at King’s Place

18/09/2011

 Mozart Four Hand Piano Music: Charles Owen (piano), Katya Apekisheva (piano). Hall One, Kings Place,London, 17.9.2011 (MB)

Adagio and Allegro in F minor, KV 594
Sonata in F major, KV 497
Adagio and Fugue in C minor, KV 426
Sonata in D major, KV 448/375a

This latest ‘Mozart Unwrapped’ concert – Kings Place has chosen Brahms to be ‘unwrapped’ next year – featured piano music for four hands, the first half involving one piano, the second half two pianos. Charles Owen and Katya Apekisheva offered generally cultivated readings, though I sometimes found myself wishing for less politeness: this Mozart sometimes veered too close to Dresden china.

The F minor Adagio and Allegro, KV 594, written for mechanical organ, opened with admirable clarity, Mozart’s neo-Baroque chromaticism permitted to tell. The Allegro exhibited a good sense not only of Mozart’s orchestral imitation, not only of typical four-hand texture, but also of his organ writing, strong Handelian influence registering clearly and with purpose. There was lightness of touch but that did not imply superficiality. When the Adagio tempo returned, the material sounded properly transformed by what had passed before. As in an opera shortly to come, La clemenza di Tito, even relatively ‘impersonal’ Mozart remains utterly personal.

Hints of Schubert in the textures of the opening movement of the four-hand F major sonata, KV 497, were welcome, though they might have been brought out more strongly. There was, moreover, more than an occasional sense of tentativeness to be heard, from Apekisheva in particular, in certain passages from the Adagio introduction. The performance improved once the main Allegro fell properly into its swing, particularly illuminating attention being paid to Mozart’s inner parts, where much of the joy of his writing for four hands is to be discovered. It was a relief to hear an Andante taken as an Andante, given time to breathe, especially with such a wealth of inner material. However, the slow movement as a whole sounded a little too tasteful, albeit better that than having irrelevant ‘personality’ stamped upon the music in exhibitionistic fashion. Contrapuntal intricacies were well handled, whilst the operatic style harked back (knowingly) to the two-hand F major piano sonata, KV 332/300k. The sense of a concerto finale was there in the third movement, but might have been stronger, more rollicking even. Still, there was much to savour in the complex, almost Schoenbergian working out of inner counterpoint.

The Adagio and Fugue in C minor received a delicate reading, but is delicate what it really needs? (I think especially of a 1947 performance from Karajan and the Vienna Philharmonic.) Owen and Apekisheva produced some exquisitely veiled playing though, especially in the fugue, I could not help but wish they had gone for the jugular. The fugue, oddly, sounded as if it too had been written for mechanical organ, the sense of a Bachian – or Bergian – labyrinth lacking. One could hear a commendable degree of detail, but what did it mean?

The D major sonata for two pianos opened in less tentative fashion, but retained that sense of (neo-classical?) automation. Though the tempo for the first movement was to my mind a couple of notches too fast, the problem was at least as much that it never yielded. The players were technically secure throughout, but, even in a piece that is sunny but hardly full of hidden depths, the music felt somewhat skated over. Much the same could be said of the Andante, taken on the fast side and unyielding. I missed any sense of what was going on beneath the surface: where was the yearning in those operatic phrases? Though marked Molto allegro, the finale sounded more of a Presto – and, more to the point, on occasion a garbled Presto. Such human music must never sound as if engaged in a mere race to the finish; it must always be allowed to breathe. Even when a ritardando was applied, it sounded calculated, adding to the feeling of music by metronome.

Mark Berry

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