Linda Nicholson

Mozart: Sonatas

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The instrument used on this fine historical keyboard disc is a 1797 Walter fortepiano from Vienna; it is part of the collection of the player, Linda Nicholson. That makes it about a generation younger than most of the music on the disc, but it works in Nicholson's readings. Nicholson emphasizes the quasi-orchestral textures found in Mozart's piano sonatas, and she chooses pieces that display them. In passages like the perfect "Mannheim rocket" D minor subsidiary theme of the first movement of the Piano Sonata in F major, K. 332, Mozart was, perhaps, aiming for an ideal sound that was a bit beyond the capabilities of the fortepianos of 1780. Nicholson's piano has a very powerful upper register and a rather damped-down middle, making for some delightful effects in the Fantasia in D minor, K. 397 (listen to the very end). The outer movements of the sonatas have plenty of sheer keyboard power, and Nicholson seems to be trying to strip away the historically inherited idea of Mozart as fragile and decorous. The Piano Sonata in A minor, K. 310, comes off as a full counterpart to later Beethovenian works like the Piano Sonata in C minor, K. 457. But Nicholson balances these tough outer movements with a lovely cantabile in the slow movements, and the instrument delivers here as well. Her performances have a greater sonic range than those of most other fortepiano recordings, and the sound engineering, executed at an unspecified location, captures it all. Recommended for all, from historical keyboard enthusiasts to those who have just heard about a piano ancestor called the fortepiano and wondered what it was about.

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