Lili Kraus

Mozart: Solo Piano Works

(CD - Music & Arts #CD-1001)

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This is a nearly complete recording of Mozart's solo keyboard music, including an entire disc of small variation sets and the like but omitting the incomplete but fascinating Piano Sonata in F major, K. 533. That work is often completed with the similar-in-spirit Rondo in F major, K. 494, but perhaps that was less settled in 1954, when Lili Kraus made these recordings. It's too bad, because one wonders what her interpretation of K. 533 would have been like -- in many of Mozart's sonatas, Kraus creates a sharp differentiation between tuneful music and scalar or arpeggiated passagework, but that highly contrapuntal sonata is in a class by itself and doesn't structurally revolve around that distinction. Kraus, of Hungarian birth, studied piano with Bartók and launched her career in the 1920s. On tour in Indonesia during World War II, she was seized by the Japanese and held for two years in a concentration camp. After the war she came to the U.S., living and teaching in Fort Worth, TX, for many years. She specialized in Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven. Her Mozart sonatas are in an older European style overall, with plenty of pedal, accents that would often be too sharp by today's standards but that have an appealing spontaneity and enthusiasm about them, very expressive slow movements, and some ornaments that sound like they came out of editions made in the late nineteenth century. She strikes a nice balance between smoothness and vigor, with flawless passagework that sounds as if it's unrolling from a machine, punctuated by nicely shaped, strong melodies. The inner melodies in Mozart's textures come out with startling clarity, and in all there's a great deal to chew on in these recordings -- each sonata is treated as an individual, and there's an overall charisma to Kraus' performances. The 1954 sound is not great; Kraus' artistry comes through clearly, but a boxy quality was either present in the original recordings or has come through in the several generations of transfers the original tapes have endured. Definitely recommended for those who enjoy recordings of the Schnabel era, or of survivors such as Mieczyslaw Horszowski.

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