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CD Review

Wolfgang Mozart

Sturm & Drang

  • Adagio in B minor, K. 540
  • Fantasia in C minor, K. 475
  • Fantasia in D minor, K. 397
  • Piano Sonata in C minor, K. 457
  • Piano Sonata in A minor, K. 310
Kristian Bezuidenhout, fortepiano
Fleur de Son FDS57951 DDD 70:10
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Bezuidenhout, a talented fortepianist still in his early twenties, calls this collection of "minor" Mozart (in key, not in significance) Sturm und Drang. In his enlightening booklet note, Bezuidenhout traces the history of this term to German literature during the period between 1770 and 1784. Music – for example, a group of Franz Joseph Haydn's symphonies &ndash also has been described by this term. The characteristics of Sturm und Drang in music include rapidly changing moods, highly contrasted dynamics, jarring harmonies (by 18th-century standards), and minor keys, especially those that might have seemed particularly "painful" when played in unequal temperament. Music that falls under the Sturm und Drang rubric is often threatening, violent, despairing, or just plain strange.

Bezuidenhout criticizes the "pacifying 'pastel' shades" heard in many modern performances of Mozart's music. He continues, "Mozart's are colours of the most vivid sort, collected together with daring originality and often juxtaposed in ways one would never expect." It should come as no surprise, then, that Bezuidenhout's playing lights firecrackers under the prim and periwigged school of Mozart interpretation. His playing is full of dramatic contrasts and, at times, even savage expressiveness. Strong and percussive, it can be as grim and fearful as the walls constructed from skulls and other bones that one can encounter in the catacombs of Viennese churches. Such playing is not for everyone. It definitely makes one hear this music with fresh ears, and challenges the status quo. One can't help but respect this fortepianist, though, for his courage and for the fixedness of his vision.

On a modern piano, Bezuidenhout's playing probably would sound freakish. I think it works on a fortepiano. Bezuidenhout plays a modern copy by Chris Maene of a five-octave fortepiano made by Anton Waller in 1795. This instrument was lent to Bezuidenhout by Malcolm Bilson, Mozart pianist extraordinaire, who uses words such as "fearless" and "terrific" to describe the younger pianist. This recording was made in the Eastman Theatre at the Eastman School of Music. It was lovingly produced by Rebecca Penneys and engineered by David A. Dusman.

I doubt a more provocative Mozart CD will be released this year. Whether you love it or hate it, you can't deny that Bezuidenhout is a fortepianist with conviction.

Copyright © 2001, Raymond Tuttle