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ClassicsOnline Home » MOZART, W.A.: Piano Trios, Vol. 1 (Kungsbacka Trio)
Alongside the string quartet, the piano trio reached maturity during the Classical period with masterpieces from the pens of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. As a virtuoso pianist and an accomplished string player, Mozart composed several remarkable trios in which violin, cello and piano interact as equal partners, their apparently effortless eloquence the fruit of much careful preparation. This first disc of the complete trios is coupled with the charming Divertimento, Mozart’s first mature work in this form.
By Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics
This trio of young musicians takes its strange-sounding name from the 'Swedish town in which it gave its first performance, and where it has established an annual festival'. Well, this sounds exotic, if not immediately endearing to non-Swedes. That minor detail aside, these people know their Mozart, and give these trios bouncy (perhaps a bit too much so) readings that Mozart would have enjoyed: bright, brash and with more than a modicum of good humour. I for one agree: Mozart does not belong on a pedestal!
By David Denton
Following their success in the prestigious Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition, their fast growing reputation has placed the Kungsbacka Trio on the international concert circuit.
Formed in 1997, it takes its name from the Swedish town who offered them their concert debut, and soon after promoted by the European Concert Hall Organisation as ‘Rising Stars’, they subsequently toured the major concert venues on both sides of the Atlantic. They now add to their catalogue of recordings the first disc in a complete cycle of Mozart’s Piano Trios that includes the early Divertimento, K.254, his first mature work in this form. In addition to that score, the first volume contains the trios K.496 and 502, both from his mature period and completed in 1786. As one has come to expect from the Kungsbacka, the performances are elegant and immaculately played. They do not try to conceal, as is common today, that Mozart still tended to view piano trios in their established form as works for piano with string accompaniment. Simon Crawford-Phillips fully enjoys the piano concerto aspects of K.502, which he plays with the staccato that would have come from a period instrument. The opening Allegro of K.496 has the required imposing sweep, while in the slow movements Jesper Svedberg underlines Mozart’s intention of emancipation the cello from its previous accompanying role. The opening of K.502 does sound a little breathless, but is balanced by the lyric approach to the central Larghetto, and the finale of K.496 bubbles with happiness. I would have preferred the recording to have bonded the piano more closely with the strings, though in terms of clarity it is outstanding.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)
Piano Trios Vol. 1
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg in 1756, the son of a court musician who, in the year of his youngest child’s birth, published an influential book on violin-playing. Leopold Mozart rose to occupy the position of Vice-Kapellmeister to the Archbishop of Salzburg, but sacrificed his own creative career to that of his son, in whom he detected early signs of precocious genius. With the indulgence of his patron, he was able to undertake extended concert tours of Europe in which his son and elder daughter Nannerl were able to astonish audiences. The boy played both the keyboard and the violin and could improvise and soon write down his own compositions.
Childhood that had brought Mozart signal success was followed by a less satisfactory period of adolescence largely in Salzburg under the patronage of a new and less sympathetic Archbishop. Like his father, Mozart found opportunities far too limited at home, while chances of travel were now restricted. In 1777, when leave of absence was not granted, he gave up employment in Salzburg to seek a future elsewhere, but neither Mannheim nor Paris, both musical centres of some importance, had anything for him. His Mannheim connections, however, brought a commission for an opera in Munich in 1781, but after its successful staging he was summoned by his patron to Vienna. There Mozart’s dissatisfaction with his position resulted in a quarrel with the Archbishop and dismissal from his service.
The last ten years of Mozart’s life were spent in Vienna in precarious independence of both patron and immediate paternal advice, a situation aggravated by an imprudent marriage. Initial success in the opera-house and as a performer was followed, as the decade went on, by increasing financial difficulties. By the time of his death in December 1791, however, his fortunes seemed about to change for the better, with the success of the German opera The Magic Flute, and the possibility of increased patronage.
In 1765, during his childhood visit to London, Mozart had written a set of six sonatas for the keyboard with the accompaniment of violin or flute, dedicated to Queen Charlotte and allowing, in the earliest printed sources, the optional participation of a cello. Some have chosen to regard these as his first steps towards the composition of piano trios. The first mature work in this form is the Divertimento in B flat major, K. 254, written in Salzburg in August 1776. The following year Mozart resigned his position as concertmaster in Salzburg and set out, accompanied only by his mother, to look for better opportunities elsewhere. In a letter to his father from Munich he tells of an attempted private performance of the ‘trio’ in which the violinist Dupreille, a member of the court orchestra, lost his place. The work enjoyed a better performance in Salzburg, according to a letter from Leopold Mozart to his son, now in Mannheim. The trio had been played at home by Mozart’s sister, Nannerl, and two visiting musicians, the violinist Anton Janitsch and the cellist Joseph Reicha, the latter the uncle of Anton Reicha, and it seems to have continued in Salzburg domestic repertoire. Essentially still retaining some of the features of a keyboard sonata, with accompanying violin and cello, the Divertimento opens with a sonata form movement, its second subject including the reverse dotting of Lombardic rhythmic figuration. In the Adagio the unfortunate Dupreille in Munich had been completely defeated by the first six bars, which actually allow the violin to introduce the main theme of the movement, later take up by the piano. The violin again takes the lead in the final Rondeau with the main Tempo di Minuetto theme, framing contrasting episodes, in all of which the cello continues to play a limited part.
Mozart tackled the developing form again in Vienna, with his Trio (Sonata) in G, K. 496, entered into his catalogue of compositions dated 8th July 1786. It was included in the list of works that Mozart sent to Sebastian Winter at Donaueschingen. Winter had been with the Mozarts as general servant and hairdresser on their journey to Paris in 1763 and the following year had entered the service of Prince Joseph Wenzel Fürstenberg, succeeded in 1783 by Prince Joseph Maria Benedikt. The new prince maintained his own court orchestra and, through Winter, his valet, bought various compositions, including three piano concertos by Mozart. He was unwilling, however, to provide the composer with an income, in return for exclusive right to new commissions, and did not buy what Mozart described as a Terzett. The surviving autograph has the title Sonata, to which is added, in another hand, that of Trio for piano, violin and cello in G major. Some have chosen to see in this trio an original piano sonata, and the Allegro certainly opens with the piano statement of the first subject, then taken up by the violin. Both instruments join in the second subject, while the cello continues in a largely subordinate rôle, before achieving some independence in the central development section. Both violin and cello acquire greater independence in the Andante, the former taking up the principal theme, first stated by the piano, material that, treated in various ways, makes up the substance of a movement marked by its shifts of key and element of counterpoint. It seems that the Tempo di menuetto completed by Maximilian Stadler and included as the second movement of K. 442 (Naxos 8.570519) was originally intended as the last movement of K. 496. In its place Mozart wrote a set of six variations on a gavotte theme. Here the fourth variation, in G minor over what is almost a ground bass from the cello, is followed by a G major Adagio, after which the original tempo is restored for the final treatment of the theme.
The Trio in B flat major, K. 502, is dated 18 November 1786 in Mozart’s catalogue, three days after the death of his second child, who had been born in October, and at a time when, to his father’s dismay, he proposed to leave his children in Salzburg with his father and travel to England, where his friends the Storaces were soon to return, after the success of Le nozze di Figaro, in which Nancy Storace had sung the rôle of Susanna. The year had brought three more piano concertos and the textures and thematic treatment of the Trio suggest a close association with the form. The first movement has the piano introduce the principal theme, to which the second subject is closely related. The E flat major Larghetto again entrusts the main theme first to the piano, before it is taken up by the violin, and there are touches of characteristic poignancy as the movement continues. There is a further suggestion of a concerto in the opening of the last movement, the solo piano entry followed by the stronger statement of the theme by the whole ensemble and the piano continues with its fair share of concerto dramatic figuration and invention.
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