Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Piano Music

Over the last 40 years, Giulio Cesare Ricci’s Fonè record label has been slowly churning out limited audiophile “one stage” (the same basic process as MoFi’s one-step) records using an all-analog chain. These Pallas-pressed recordings of classical, jazz and various other types of acoustic music are limited to 496 copies each. Why 496 specifically? Because Ricci is fond of the number, that’s all. Fonè is clearly a labor of passion and love for Ricci as he not only runs the label, but serves as his own recording and mastering engineer.

This particular release featuring the late American pianist Charles Rosen, was recorded at central Italy’s historic Garden of Ninfa inside the Caetani recital hall with Neumann valve microphones onto quarter inch tape back in October of 2001. Yet, it did not find its way to a release until this past summer. Mr. Rosen sadly passed away in 2012, and this solo recording made at the age of 74 appears to be one of the final in his rich discography. Rosen was well respected in the 20th century as both a concert pianist and music scholar, whose writings received praise and awards in both the public and academic press. In particular, his writings on the classical performance style bear relevance to this particular record.

I’ve always held the opinion that the heart of Mozart’s music lies primarily in his piano music and his operas. His symphonies and concertos are of course divine, but it’s in works like these sonatas, or his operatic arias, where the character of Mozart the person - his humor, his wit, his expressive beauty - truly resides. The two Sonatas featured here: KV 310 in A minor, and KV 331 in A Major, are two of his finest, and the included Allemande from the unfinished Suite KV 399 is a splendid bonus. Many readers will recognize the A Major sonata for its ‘Alla Turca’ final movement.

The playing by Rosen is deeply thoughtful, and perhaps a bit reserved. You will find no Yuja Wang bombast and glitz here; the tempos are measured and the melodic lines are given care and grace. Rosen actually takes the correct Allegretto tempo during the ‘Alla Turca’, which is refreshing given the recent trend to push that movement to a fiery presto. One must note however, that the pianist is 74, and his playing is likely not up to the standards of his earlier career. The left hand is often a bit slow and awkward to catch up to his right, and sometimes the ends of phrases finish without the care they started with. One thing that did jump out to me is how much Rosen is able to portray the large overall shape of the music, a sign that he truly understands the formal structure Mozart is employing.

The sound on this AAA recording is fantastically transparent and captures the unique timbre of the fascinating choice of instrument: an 1884 Bechstein grand piano. In fact, it is the same piano that Franz Liszt used during his final tour of Italy. Listeners accustomed to the sound of a more modern Steinway or Bosendorfer piano may find this piano a bit shocking to hear; it is much drier in tone and lacks some of the warmth and resonance in the low register that modern ears are used to hearing. The effect is something unique, and the listener is not only treated to a well rendered piano image that puts you ‘in the space’ with the musician, but to the sound of a historic instrument that few of us will ever get to hear in-person.

This recording presents the opportunity for the listener to sit in on an intimate recital with one of the most storied artists and scholars of the 20th century. These performances of Mozart’s core piano repertoire are thoughtful, graceful, and offer us something “off the beaten path” from more mainstream recordings. The fact that we get to hear such a deeply personal performance through three-dimensional analog sound makes it a special treat for these solitary times.

Imported to The United States by Acoustic Sounds

Also available at Elusive Disc

Michael Johnson is a Phoenix, AZ based oboist and audio writer. He is currently a member of the Tucson Symphony, and performs regularly with the Phoenix Symphony and Arizona Opera. He is a contributing writer at Audiophilia.com and maintains a vinyl-focused youtube channel by the name of PoetryOnPlastic. You can follow his vinyl journey on Instagram at instagram.com/poetryonplastic

PeterPani's picture

have in common that they both played the Sienna Pianoforte in the 50's. So you can compare the two in their prime time on the same label (Esoteric Records) and Deguire is unbeatable in direct comparsion. Her humanity fits Mozart's in a way nobody can describe it. Deguire played back then also the the KV 331 on the Sienna. It is the best played piece of Mozart I own. It is the best sounding record (only the first original pressing) I own, too. This old record of Deguire sits singular on top of my 6000 records and 1000 tapes collection. Every several months I put it on my TD124 and fall down a hole in full surprise.