Bronfman and Stern take an approach in these four works that veers toward neither confection nor meat and potatoes, settling rather on a Mozart who is both graceful and tastefully muscular. The opening Allegro of K. 377 is vivacious and witty, colorful and full of felicitous details. The Andante that follows is insightfully rendered, with the wistfulness of the main theme captured to near perfection, and the ranging moods of the variations that ensue handled deftly, especially by Bronfman, who appears the subtler of the two. The finale again finds the pair right on target, striking that balance between grace and brawn.
Their performance of K. 304 may be the best of the bunch, though. Or maybe it's just that I like this wonderful sonata a little better than the others. The duo manage to wring some genuine and very convincing angst from the second movement, and capture the changing character throughout of the main theme in the opening Allegro.
The duo's K. 547 is a solid reading, though the first movement seems wanting a bit for imagination and greater expressivity. Not that the performance here is bad; it's just that at times it sounds a bit stiff, making you wish things were a tad more sprightly and elastic. The ensuing movements are insightfully read, the second full of vigor and grace, and the finale encompassing the full expressive range of the theme and variations. Their phrase endings are especially effective in Variations III and IV; and the introduction of each new variation is handled adroitly and with nearly all the sensitivity one could ask for. Try, for example, Bronfman's handling of the opening of the fifth variation (track 8; 5:08), for solo piano, there being the clever illusion at the outset that you're listening to a transition.
K. 481 begins vigorously, but neither Bronfman nor Stern overlook the subtleties here, always maintaining a firm but flexible grip on the musical trajectory. The Adagio is played ponderously yet sweetly, the profound character of the movement emerging in sadly singing tones and hushed utterances. This is playing on the highest level. The pair render the finale with wit, and again show their deft ability to capture a kaleidoscopic range of expression in their compelling enactment of the six variations.
Anyone doubting Stern's skills at this stage in his long, distinguished career ought to hear this disc. While Bronfman may be the more reliable of the two, Stern more than holds up his end. Sony provides excellent sound and intelligent notes. There are many such Mozart sonata discs on the market today (Neikrug/Zukerman on RCA and Haskil/Grumiaux on Philips to name just two), but with such impressive artistry as evidenced here, you can't go wrong purchasing this disc.
Copyright © 1997, Robert Cummings