In the years since the big Mozart anniversary, more and more Mozart recordings by historically informed performance (HIP) groups have crossed my desk, from the piano concertos, to the operas, and works for keyboard. There is more on this recent release, which pairs some more of the minor piano pieces with obscurities from the Mozart song oeuvre. German tenor Werner Güra may not have the sort of voice that guarantees a success with every program, but intelligent choices and a certain natural, well-executed style of performance have made several of his recordings excellent listening. He has had particular success when paired with Austrian pianist Christoph Berner, as in their Brahms Liebeslieder-Walzer and especially a 2005 disc of Brahms and the Schumanns, with Berner on a 19th-century piano.
Mozart, Lieder / Klavierstücke, W. Güra, C. Berner
(released March 11, 2008)
Harmonia Mundi HMC 901979
Güra and Berner return to that formula with their Mozart program, with Berner playing on a Streicher pianoforte. No specifics about the instrument are provided in the booklet, meaning that it is likely an instrument significantly later than Mozart. Little matter, as the tone is sweet, mellow, but still crunchy with percussive sounds when needed. Of the four pieces for keyboard alone, two were also featured in Richard Egarr's disc of the Mozart fantasias and rondos. The F major rondo, K. 494, was new to my ears, and the middle section in the parallel minor (starting at bar 95) is pleasingly mysterious, as is Mozart's exploration of the bass register in the closing measures. Likewise, the 18-year-old composer's set of six variations on "Mio caro Adone" (from the Act II finale of Salieri's opera La fiera di Venezia) is an interesting early version of what Mozart's variation technique will become later in his life.
The pianoforte recorded here is suited to the lyrical side of Güra's voice, although he strays too far toward affectation in some of the songs' cuter moments. For some listeners the performance may be a little free with rubato stretch and pull, but it is a good way to liven up the strophic songs (like Der Verschweigung, K. 518). Only the most determined of completists would be disappointed to learn that Güra omits many of the strophes (what? only 5 of the 18 verses of Das Lied der Trennung?). To keep things interesting, Güra and Berner occasionally introduce tasteful and stylistically appropriate ornamentation, as in Das Traumbild, K. 530. Of few pieces on this program could the word "major discovery" be seriously applied, but as a whole it brings to life this occasional and intimate repertoire.