Friday, April 14, 2006


ALL MOZART'S MUSIC arrived a couple of days ago in a box five inches square and a foot long -- 179 CDs: all the authenticated work: operas, symphonies, concerti, chamber music, choral music, solo keyboard music, all performed on period instruments by young, intelligent, delightful musicians.

I write this perhaps too soon: obviously I haven't heard them all yet. I'm tackling them in my usual way, chronologically: so far I've heard the first disc of four "volumes" -- symphonies, Concerti, violin sonatas, keyboard music.

One ear-opener is the choice of instruments. The earliest keyboard solos are played variously on organ (by Bernard Foccroulle), clavichord, or harpsichord (Guy Penson), with deliciously varied but always expressive results. The recordings are clean and close-to.

The early piano concerti K. 107 are performed by Pieter-Jan Belder on a Ruckers-type harpsichord and accompanied by two violins (Remy Baudet and Marten Boeken) and double-bass (Margaret Urquhart), with the soloist filling in also . The resulting texture is lean and clear, a fitting suggestion of the child's lean, clear mind processing his originals -- three keyboard sonatas by J.C. Bach, also present on the recording in clavichord performances) into pieces with the wider range of dynamics and textures offered by the strings. I like the string-players a lot: their elegant period style, with slight swells on the long notes and the resonance of gut strings, and the lightness of their touch.

I began this survey with the early violin sonatas, K. 26-31, composed by a ten-year-old who was already a formidable violinist himself. Remy Baudet and Pieter-Jan Belder play these with a great deal of pleasure and intimacy, on a 1706 violin and a recent Ruckers-type harpsichord, lifting the music well away from the more juvenile pieces Mozart had written only a few years earlier.

The first six symphonies have a completely different sound from the chamber-music recordings, with Jaap ter Linden conducting the Mozart Akademie Amsterdam (recorded in the Doopsgezinde Kerk in Haarlem, with open, spacious sound). Oboes and horns have a fine bite in sudden fortes, a smooth resonance otherwise; the strings are vivacious, and the entire affair is lively and public, graceful and ingratiating.

I bought this set, issued in The Netherlands on the Brilliant Classics label, from eBay; it arrived within a few weeks at a very manageable cost, not much more than a dollar a disc. I don't know how they do it. It's a marvelous gift from modern technology, patient scholarship, and dedicated but joyous performances. I can hardly wait to get to the first opera, Apollo and Hyacinth: I'll let you know how it sounds.