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Mozart: Sonatas for four hands - Kuijken / Kuijken

Mozart: Sonatas for four hands - Kuijken / Kuijken

Challenge Classics  CC 72363

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Instrumental


Mozart: Sonata in F major K.497, Sonata in C major K.521, Sonata in D major K.448

Marie & Veronica Kuijken (piano)


The four-hand repertoire was certainly not popular during the period that the young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his slightly older sister Nannerl would be placed behind a clavier to entertain audiences with four-hand music. Mozart wrote five duet sonatas and several separate works for pianoforte four-hand. On this CD, the four-hand pieces are Mozart’s two last and most monumental sonatas. They explore the limits of the pianoforte, both literally and regarding sound volume. Mozart did not shy away from giving both players an independent and often complicated and technically demanding part.

Sonata in F, K. 497:Mozart’s way of exploiting the opportunities inherent in the four-hand repertoire was pioneering and led to impressive results. This sonata reminds one not only of his symphonic music and operas but also his sometimes highly virtuosic pieces and concertos for pianoforte.

Sonata in C K 521: Instead of the tight interweaving of the four hands of K 497, this sonata establishes a more competitive relationship between the two performers. Many are the passages where they imitate each other (with deviations).

The Sonata in D K 448 similar to the K 521 sonata. Here, too, scores of virtuosic figures are passed back and forth by the performers.(Source: liner notes of the CD 'Sonatas for four hands'- Il Pulcini - Marie & Veronika Kuijken)

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Review by Adrian Quanjer - January 12, 2016

If you prefer Mozart sonatas to be played on a modern grand piano by top pianists in a concert hall of 5000 or more seats, then this recital may not be for you. But there are other ways of enjoying them.

For instance: Many experts, and not only them, hold the view that Mozart has a beneficial effect on soul and mind. This phenomenon is called “the Mozart effect”. According to the British Epilepsy Organization this may also have a positive effect on those suffering from epilepsy in that it ‘improves spatial reasoning skills and reduces the number of such seizures’. In this context the BEO refers specifically to KV 448, the first work on this disk.

We must neither assume that Mozart composed this sonata, or any other piece, with such an effect in mind, nor do I believe that he wrote his 4-hands sonatas for concert hall performances. It’s more likely that he had something else in mind. The liner notes suggest that, perhaps apart for duets with his sister Nannerl, they were primarily meant to be used for study purposes, four-handed music not being very popular in Mozart’s time. However, there is still another way to enjoy this music: the way it is recorded on this disk.

Imagine: Sometime during the 18th century you are an important visitor to the Austrian capital, Vienna, and you have been invited to spend a Sunday at a stately home in the country side. After dinner you are treated to a private concert by two daughters of the family, playing a fortepiano as used by Mozart. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? It gives a tremendous pleasure to listen to Mozart in the intimacy of a private home. This is the essence of what you hear on this disk and to which you can listen over and over again in the comfort of your own sweet home.

Marie Kuijken is first and foremost a greatly appreciated soprano and oratorio singer, but she also studied the piano at the Brussels Conservatory. Her sister, Veronica, is equally polyvalent, playing the violin (see a.o. Challenge Classics CC 72362) as well as the piano. Around 1989 both started, more or less spontaneously, playing ‘à quatre mains’, initially specializing in Mozart (and Haydn), broadening their repertoire later on.

For this recording the Kuijken sisters have chosen copies of a 1788 Johann Andreas Stein pianoforte, a favourite of Mozart, manufactured by the Belgian clavier builder Claude Kelekom. As for the sound: typical pianoforte, maybe a bit clunky at times, but with few mechanical noises, although it would seem to me that the recording volume has been turned up to compensate for the lower sound level.

Of the three sonatas on this disk, the anti-epilepsy one (KV 488, later 375a) is for two fortepianos, whereas the other two, Mozart’s last 4-hands sonatas (KV 479 and KV 521), are to be played on one. They are demanding pieces, requiring not only exemplary collaboration and integration, but also, in view of the size of the fortepiano, a lot of indulgence from both players.

The liner notes give ample information about the sonatas, so there is no need to copy it here. Suffice it to say that -in the words of the artists- ‘the instrument dictates .. what can and cannot be done’ and listening to the result I cannot but admit that it is a quite lot. Due to its light ‘toucher’ fast passages don’t pose a problem, allowing for cheerful and precise play, adding to the overall feeling of joy Marie and Veronica are expertly sharing with us.

The recording is very good thanks to the NorthStar and the chosen location: Galaxy Studios, Mol (Belgium)

Blangy le Château
Normandy, France

Copyright © 2016 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net

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Comment by Euell Neverno - January 24, 2016 (1 of 1)

I can only wonder why the reviewer chopped a half star from his ratings. These are joyful performances of wonderful music.