They say that you can go a long way on charm alone, and this CD proves it. The Other Mozart, which is this CD's proper title, is a collection of songs by Franz Xaver Mozart, who was born in 1791 and died in 1844. Franz Xaver was the younger of Wolfgang Mozart's two sons to live into adulthood. He did not know his father, though, because he was just a few months old when Wolfgang passed away. Constanze, his mother, hoped that Franz Xaver had inherited at least some of his father's talents, as much for financial reasons as for matters of pride, and he received a fine musical education as a youngster. Indeed, Franz Xaver was not without talent, but it must have been a terrible burden for him to be compared to his father. His mother even went so far as to refer to him as "Wolfgang," or worse, "Wolfi" when she began to present him to the Viennese public. Alas, the promising bud never blossomed, and Franz Xaver remained a merely talented musician – not a godly one, and not a genius either.
It was Barbara Bonney herself who tracked down this rare material. In the booklet note she writes, "I love these songs," and confesses, "I felt like I had discovered a new species, or an island in the Pacific." I can understand her enthusiasm. These songs are simple and heartfelt. Love is the most common subject – generally the unrequited variety – and the prevailing mood is one of wistfulness. Franz Xaver must not have had a single pretentious bone in his body, judging from these strophic songs, whose modest charm justifies their redemption from oblivion. Franz Xaver was a few years older than Schubert. Stylistically, his songs are closer to Schubert's than to his father's – no surprise there – but it would be best not to compare them at all, but simply to enjoy them for what they are. Would we be hearing them if they were not by "the" Mozart's son? Probably not, but that doesn't mean that they are a waste of time. In a world of self-promoting celebrities and never-ending din, these songs are like a gentle conversation with a trusted friend over a cup of cocoa.
Hearing Bonney's performances of these songs, I doubt that other sopranos will dare to challenge her on this turf. The silvery purity of her voice suits Franz Xaver's music well – if there are a few shrill moments, they seem to be the result of close microphone placement. Just as important, she responds to every nuance in the texts. She makes these songs sound more important than they are, and that's nothing to regret. In "Bertha's Lied in der Nacht," one even hears an anticipation of Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs. Her performance of "Le Baiser" – the sole French song on this CD – could sell this disc to me all by itself. Pianist Martineau discharges his rather simple duties no less disarmingly. Texts and English translations are included.
Lovely, just lovely!
Copyright © 2006, Raymond Tuttle