Malcolm Bilson

Mozart: Piano Sonatas, Complete

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Mozart: Piano Sonatas, Complete Review

by James Leonard

Recorded between 1988 and 1990, Malcolm Bilson's performances of Mozart's piano sonatas come from the heroic age of historically informed performance practice. Those were the years following the earlier age of discovery, the age when the music of Bach, Vivaldi, and Handel was reclaimed by flat necked violinists, wooden bodied flutists, and pluck stringed harpsichordists, the brave new age when the music of Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven was reclaimed by catgut string players, cowhide timpanists, and fortepianist keyboard players. Leader of the British scholars-turned-fortepianists, Bilson was determined to re-take Mozart's keyboard works from the legions of modern piano players. He aimed to accomplish this with a two-pronged attack: a complete set of all the piano concertos for Archiv and a complete set of all the piano sonatas for Hungaroton. Of the two sets, the concertos enjoyed the greater success at the time, but it was the sonatas that ultimately proved in the long run to be more persuasive. Alone without an orchestra, Bilson's bright tone, brilliant technique, and poised interpretations revealed beauties and profundities in the works that had hitherto been lost in the mass and weight of the modern concert grand. While modern players continued to record the sonatas, it was Bilson's heroic efforts that made the works safe once again for fortepianists.

The years 1988 through 1990 were also the heroic age of digital recording, the years following the age of experimentation when the then-new recording technology was rapidly overtaking the old technology and vast sums of money were being spent re-recording the standard repertoire. Among the biggest beneficiaries of the new technology were companies like Hungaroton, which had heretofore been plagued by inferior vinyl pressings. Not only did it now have clean sound, but it also had the silent surfaces of CDs in which to preserve the sound. Thus, Bilson's performances were not only faithfully reproduced, they were protected from the indignities that vinyl was heir to.

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