IsoMike 5602 (www.isomike.com)
If we accept Hans von Bulow’s decree to pianists that “Bach is the Old Testament and Beethoven is the New Testament of music,” where does that leave Mozart? As a kind of musical John the Baptist?
But if Mozart has been relegated to the role of a pianistic voice crying in the wilderness, it’s not the composer’s doing, but the fault of the musical world. Some pianists, such as Glenn Gould, have disdained his piano music as lightweight. Others, such as Alicia De Laroccha, have unwittingly given credence to this view by performing Mozart with a mannered superficiality. And then there are folks who feel that Mozart’s piano music needs to be performed on a period fortepiano – as if he can’t quite compete with “important” piano composers when played on a modern instrument.
Enter Robert Silverman, the Vancouver-based pianist who has earned a reputation as a Beethoven interpreter with a penchant for complete sonata cycles. Now, in this seven-disc boxed set on the audiophile IsoMike label, Silverman has recorded all 18 Mozart sonatas, and also the Chromatic Fantasy in C Minor.
What makes these performances so consistently engaging is the breadth he brings to his interpretations. He’s not out to directly overthrow traditional ideas about Mozart, but rather to enfold them within a broader vision: while there’s sometimes a “Mozartkugel” sweetness to his playing, there’s much more than that. In Silverman’s hands, this music is dramatic, humourous, effervescent, calm, blissful, tragic, and many other things as well.
For instance, there’s Sonata No. 15, which Silverman, in his notes, describes as “the most curious work in Mozart’s entire keyboard oeuvre.” In this recording, the first movement begins as a lively romp, but with the underlying strength of supple and flexible steel. The second movement is less complex, perhaps, but inward-looking and carefully shaped. And the last movement is pure innocence and charm – until the change from major to minor brings just a touch of wistfulness.
The only non-sonata on these discs, the C Minor Fantasy, is no less impressive. Contrasts are sharply drawn, intensity builds and recedes, colours range from light to dark, and the music is always going somewhere.
Sonically, these discs are as clear as a bell and as pure as the driven snow. And speaking of Glenn Gould (whom I mentioned four paragraphs back), can Silverman be heard very quietly humming in some lyrical passages? It sounds like he might be.