Picks and Pans Review: Mozart: Music for Two Fortepianos

updated 06/18/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/18/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Malcolm Bilson, Robert Levin

Up to now, most recordings on fortepiano have been of relatively early music—Haydn, Mozart and early Beethoven. With Serkin's releases, at last we get into what Beethoven buffs have been waiting to discover: What do the late sonatas sound like on the fortepiano—the smaller, lighter-stringed predecessor of the modern grand piano? If No. 27 (1814) is on the cusp as far as sonata boundaries go, No. 28 (1816) is truly late. Played on the 1824 Graf fortepiano owned by the Schubert Club of St. Paul, Minn., the pieces don't sound as different as one might expect. The bass is clearer, an aid in sorting out the compounding currents in the climax of the last movement. The treble is expectedly bright, clear, contained, producing an intimate effect. But whether through the adaptable nature of the Graf, or through Serkin's handling and persuasive interpretation, the sound has the depth and authority, as well as the rarefied beauty, necessary to convey Beethoven's scary, purifying elevator rides from the cellar to the skylight of the psyche. Serkin must deserve all the credit, since in the Schubert Dances, spanning the years 1812-1827, the same St. Paul Graf sounds graceful, charming, even coquettish, reflecting the candelabra glow and lacy qualities of the pieces themselves. The Mozart LP turns the clock back to the 1780s. Played on two modern reproductions of 18th-century fortepianos, the sound, especially in the treble, seems more delicate and harpischord-like than the Graf's. The works—especially the Sonata in D Major, K.448/375a—are irresistible. In the fast, outer movements, Bilson and Levin work up an avalanche of momentum. But thanks to the nature of the fortepiano, you can discern each snowflake. (Serkin: Pro Arte; Bilson/Levin: Nonesuch)

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