The Local View ? Neighbourhood Cinemas and Alternative Film Projects

Many small neighbourhood cinemas invested in the future. The digital options for showing films are opening up new vistas for alternative projects. Not all of them are legal.... more more

GoetheInstitute

04/01/2006

Off with Mozart's wig

Wolfram Goertz surveys the newest Mozart recordings by a new generation of soloists

He made us suffer. We wore ourselves out rehearsing his music. He lay there, so shiny and pure, the shimmer of his enigmatic beauty was so unbearable. We were simply too young for him. When, to our relief, Beethoven's booming epics were set down in front of us we put Mozart, the apollonian stranger, aside. Mozart literally scared off swathes of young pianists, who couldn't make head or tail of his quicksilver lightness, the magic of his pensive andantes, his descents into countless adagios or his furious prestos.

Wasn't he Rococo? Didn't he wear a wig? Wasn't his music made of porcelain? Did it have any of sort of message at all? Beethoven, on the other hand, was passionate. For Mozart you could hardly be mature enough, and those who were had a hard time finding their way back to him. Pianists prefer to play Chopin and Liszt, Schumann and Debussy, Beethoven and Ravel. With them the concert hall booms. With Mozart it coughs softly. (Audio samples)



But now the Mozart year is approaching, and suddenly everything looks different. Even the young, aspiring musicians are captivated once more. No one gets past Mozart. How much of this is a sense of duty and how much devotion? With pianist Martin Stadtfeld it's hard to say. He needs to ward off the swarm of media around his unique talent as the exceptional Bach interpreter before it closes in and suffocates him. Mozart could be a welcome escape. Stadtfeld sought refuge in the concertos in minor chords, of which Bach for his part wrote only two. He plays "Concerto No. 20 in D minor", K.466, as if he's whipping off the wig and then letting in the storm of "Don Giovanni".

Stadtfeld performs confidently, accompanied by the symphonic grandeur of the NDR symphony orchestra conducted by Bruno Weil. Still, he races through the piece as if hounded by it. He plays the romance so nonchalantly that it doesn't bear comparison with Clara Haskil, Friedrich Gulda or Edwin Fischer, who all probed this lingering movement like a sweet oracle. Stadtfeld wants to purge himself of this sweetness, he's suspicious of it and grateful for each movement he can put between himself and this sacred lyricism. Yet this drags him into insignificance.

At one point in the first movement of the Concerto in D Minor, Stadtfeld seems so lost that you want to send him right back to Bach before any more damage is done. Here he has composed his own cadenza and its banging chords and unrefined sequences are reminiscent of an early Beethoven who just failed his composition exam. And in the opening of "Concerto No.24 in C minor", K.491, Stadtfeld sprinkles a superfluous pinch of piano into the orchestra's prelude, throwing in broken triads, hoping the world will say with sheer delight: "That Stadtfeld, such an innovator, pure genius!" But it's merely needless pomposity.



Surely a shrewder approach is to analyse the wealth of interpretation shored up over the decades. Hilary Hahn, another highly gifted musician, is proof that this method works. Her Mozart is fresh, true-to-life, unaffected. She plays a quartet of violin sonatas, which are really sonatas for violin and piano – and the piano is by no means less important. Hilary Hahn knows that only too well, but she is a typical solo violinist who likes the limelight. Take the opening bars of "Sonata No.7 in F major", K.376, for example.

With virtually every stroke she shows that her strings are made of steel and can be electrified unpleasantly and continuously by short, sharp shocks of vibrato. However softly she tries to play an accompanying melody her violin screams, "Listen to me, I haven't disappeared!" The levels in the recording studio take care of the rest making the excellent pianist Natalie Zhu just that little bit quieter, so that the four beautiful sonatas for violin and piano (that's their original name) are reverted into typical violin sonatas: one plays the lady, the other the maid.



The word "natural" takes on a whole different meaning in the young violinist from Munich, Julia Fischer. She hasn't yet reached Hilary Hahn's level of fame; she still has to work on her image, but she plays neither "Concerto No.3 in G Major", K.216 nor "Concerto No.4 in D major", K.218, as though she's having to work at them. Fischer throws herself into it, varying the dynamic beautifully. Her strings don't sound like she's twanging electric fences and her cadenzas in both concertos are by no means frivolous, but match the style perfectly. Unfortunately the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra conducted by Yakov Kreizberg echoes around the concert hall and only manages to get 95 percent of the notes right.

Perhaps where Hahn and Stadtfeld go wrong is that they don't have teachers any more. Or if they do, they're the type who have to be able to do the whole repertoire, from Bach to Prokofiev. For Mozart, general scholarship isn't enough. He demands more labour-intensive, exclusive attention. It would be worth introducing these two star musicians to conductor Roger Norrington, who for a long time now has been encouraging his musicians to play modern instruments "in an historically informed" way, as he puts it. This basically means thinking about one phrase at a time. Nothing should be left to tradition. The preconceived ideas about what is important and what is not have to be re-assessed. The "Piano Concerto No.16 in D major", K.451, is a good example of how the soloist needs to strike the right balance between freedom and humility. Here the piano is virtually another member of the orchestra, complementing the nimble flutes and the gentle murmuring of the harps. Often only one hand is kept busy. Those who want to play the hero here have missed the point.



Norrington rehearsed this concerto with pianist Sebastian Knauer and the Camerata Salzburg just a stone's throw from Mozart's birthplace. Right from the start you're enveloped by the pure glory of the orchestra's sound. But this is not a majestic passage, instead it's more like the day of Creation when God made the first flowers: never before has the work been such an idyll of lush beauty, charm and colour. At one point a pretty little viola motif crops up which you could have sworn was not in the score. When Knauer begins his solo, your first thought is: what understatement! Doesn't he want to make it onto the poster? But this delicate style is Mozart's hallmark. Knauer doesn't stride around like an athlete; he wanders like a dreamer, like an agile Franciscan communing with nature. The result is enchanting, as if he's tiptoeing through the Garden of Eden.

As if Knauer has been kissed by a muse in Salzburg and wants to pass the kiss along, the CD includes a sonata for violin and piano, played with violinist Daniel Hope. The violin opens the "Sonata in G Major", K.379, with a fragmented second inversion chord in G major. The top note B is repeated 3 times and with each repetition Hope, master of the filigree, finds a new texture, a new vibrato, reaches a greater height of intensity. It has the choral quality and range of chamber music and is two days in a horse and carriage away from the solid, plodding style of Hilary Hahn.



The last to step into the Mozart ring is pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, and that really is no surprise. He who scrawled courage, risk and versatility on the Tricolour, who showed his multiple personalities by playing Ives and Ravel, Beethoven and Ligeti, Debussy and Messiaen at the same concert, why shouldn't he, out of the blue, have a go at Mozart? But Aimard didn't choose just any old piano concertos, he picked the bluest from out of the blue; the three piano concertos in B flat major (K.238, 450 and 595). For the first time Aimard doubled up as conductor for this recording, but with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe you only need raise an eyebrow and they start to play with the utmost grace.

The orchestra is also enjoying what it's playing, and nowhere is that as wonderfully audible as in the second section of "Piano Concerto No.6 in B flat", K.238. The strings play a short, leisurely phrase which is usually rounded off with vigour. Here they seem to be deliriously tipsy, as if Mozart has gone to their heads. Aimard himself is so taken by it all that he yelps into the microphone just before bar 76.

This is loyally rendered in the live recording from Graz, and we're grateful for this human interruption, for the listener is also beside himself. This is one of the most exquisite Mozart recordings of all time. Aimard plays Mozart with grandeur and wit, with passion and ease, with Latin clarity and grandezza, he is lyrical without overdoing it, he brings out Mozart's severity and Mozart's compassion. In short: He is the ideal Mozart pianist. Because he loves him. And because he waited long enough.

*

The article originally appeared in German in Die Zeit on October 13, 2005.

Wolfram Goertz is a journalist for Die Zeit.

Translation: Abby Darcy.

Get the signandsight newsletter for regular updates on feature articles.
signandsight.com - let's talk european.

 
More articles

Functions like DNA

Monday 31 October 2011

In 2007 the rap duo Kinderzimmer Productions disbanded with rapper Henrik von Holtum, alias MC Textor, publishing a ranting manifesto against the rap scene in the Tageszeitung. But Kinderzimmer Productions is back with a new live recording of their old songs - with the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. Nina Apin from the taz talks with MC Textor about rap, classical music and the question of aging gracefully.
read more

Beyond the groove

Tuesday 19 July 2011

TeaserPicSearching for new sounds to take the party to new highs, club music is turning to classical and new music. Prominent techno DJs such as Carl Craig and Moritz von Oswald, Ricardo Villalobos and Max Loderbauer are working with the recordings of Deutsche Grammophon and ECM. Alexis Waltz samples some bewitchingly beautiful and psychedelically absurd results. Photo Ricardo Villalobos © Stefan Stern
read more

Lady G and the dead industrial product

Tuesday 1 June, 2011

TeaserPicDesigned to appeal to everyone over the age of six, Lady Gaga's new album "Born this Way" is basically funfair techno – with a dash of hilarious mock German. Diedrich Diederichsen explains why this is not how good pop music happens.
read more

What, yet another neglected genius?

Tuesday 27 July, 2010

This year's theatre festival in Bregrenz hosted the world premiere of Mieczyslaw Weinberg's Auschwitz opera "The Passenger" from 1968. His biographer David Fanning introduces the life and music of this incredibly prolific composer, whose work somehow failed to emerge from the shadows of the Iron Curtain.
read more

Composed in delirious time

Tuesday 22 June, 2010

TeaserPicRobert Schumann was born 200 years ago on June 8. The conductor and composer Heinz Holliger, who has devoted his life to the study of Romantic master, talks to Claus Spahn about the his labyrinthine imagination, erudition and incredible modernity. He also dispels a string of clichees that have consigned so much of the Schumann's work to musical oblivion.
read more

The apathy and the ecstasy

Friday 22 January, 2010

Riding the retro wave, singers from across the spectrum of popular music have brought back falsetto with a vengeance. While this is mostly in homage to bygone styles and idols, it has also introduced new nuances of meaning. Ueli Bernays traces falsetto's high-pitched passage from expression to gimmick and back.
read more

What was eating Wagner?

Thursday 9 April, 2009

In this, the Mendelssohn bicentennial year, Martin Geck looks at why the wealthy middle-class composer, who was Europe's most successful musician in the final decade of his life, brought out the very worst in Richard Wagner.
read more

Julia Fischer: Virtuosissima!!!

Thursday 10 January, 2008

At the New Year's concert in the Alte Oper in Frankfurt the audience's excitement was palpable. It was patently clear to all assembled that they were either about to witness the disgrace of one of the world's greatest living violinists, or the triumphant birth of a new piano virtuoso. By Arno Widmann
read more

Kylwyria - Kálvária

Wednesday 24 October, 2007

Ligeti the gesamtkunstwerk, Ligeti the Socrates-Ligeti, Ligeti the volcano. Hungarian composer György Kurtág spoke at a memorial session of the Order Pour le Mérite in Berlin about his lifelong friend, György Ligeti, who died on June 12, 2006.
read more

In the cradle of the Phaedra myth

Thursday 27 September, 2007

Hans Werner Henze's fourteenth opera "Phaedra" almost cost him his life. Now the premiere has taken place in Berlin. Volker Hagedorn visited the eighty-one-year-old composer at his home above the Tiber valley, where he has lived and worked since 1953.
read more

Nonchalance out of the depths

Wednesday 26 September, 2007

Benjamin Biolay is France's new Serge Gainsbourg. He is pioneer of the "Nouvelle Chanson," even if he rejects the term. And basically he sings about one thing: love, nothing but love. By Elke Buhr (Photo © Bruce Weber, courtesy Virgin Records France / EMI)
read more

Tradition, revolution and reaction in Bayreuth

Monday 30 July, 2007

Probably never before has there been so much hype around a premiere at the Bayreuth Festival. Because the director of this "Mastersingers of Nuremberg" is Katharina Wagner, great granddaughter of Richard Wagner, who could one day take over as festival director. By Marianne Zelger-Vogt (Image: Katharina Wagner. © Enrico Nawrath, courtesy Bayreuther Festspiele)
read more

Mann and his musical demons

Wednesday 18 July, 2007

Thomas Mann was enchanted by German classical music but was also wary of its seductive powers. In his novels, he anticipates its instrumentalisation by the Nazis, who used it as the gateway to bourgeois German hearts and minds. By Wolfgang Schneider
read more

La Scuola Napoletana sings again

Friday 25 May, 2007

Conductor Riccardo Muti describes rummaging through Naples' venerable music archive, where he discovered a number of slumbering opera manuscripts, among them Domenico Cimarosa's "Il ritorno di Don Calandrino," which opens the Salzburg Whitsun Festival tonight.
read more

Arnie of the ivories

Wednesday 2 May, 2007

After brilliant beginnings, bodybuilding pianist Tzimon Barto's career crashed as spectacularly as it started. Now the bizarre mixture of rancher, writer and keyboard collossus is back, with a fabulous new recording of Ravel. By Kai Luehrs-Kaiser
read more