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Richard Egarr's Phantasy

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Mozart, Fantasias and Rondos, Richard Egarr, fortepiano (released on August 8, 2006)
We have a few more Mozart new releases that are coming in under the wire for the big Mozart centenary, including this lovely disc of minor Mozart keyboard pieces. Richard Egarr plays them on a restored Johann Zahler fortepiano (Brünn, or Brno, c. 1805), now conserved in Amsterdam (where Egarr is based as director of the Academy of the Begijnhof), an instrument that sounds disturbingly like a toy piano at times, but with a rich dynamic contrast and level of touch sensitivity that underscore the advantage of the instrument pioneered by Cristofori and Silbermann over the harpsichord.

The greatest performance event of the Mozart year, the complete cycle of Mozart's operas at the Salzburg Festival, was so important not because the same old works of Mozart were being performed, but because the obscure ones were. In a similar way but on a smaller scale, this disc is worth acquiring because Egarr plays pieces you are likely never to have heard and does so on an instrument built within a couple decades of Mozart's death. Think of it as a sort of time machine.

Mozart was a well-reputed improviser, and the pieces on this recital with the title fantasie, präludio, or capriccio, along with the cadenzas Mozart left behind for his own concerti, give us the surest vantage point onto his improvisational tendencies. In them, we hear Mozart's appreciation for and absorption of the empfindsamer Stil, best exemplified in the works of C. P. E. Bach. There are also substantial, more formally organized works not to be missed, like the two rondos (K. 485 and 511), the extended and exceedingly lovely Adagio in B minor (K. 540), and the C major homage to Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, a prelude and fugue (K. 394).

Icing on the cake comes in the form of several miniatures for amateurs to play, two marches (including a silly funeral march for one "Sigr. Maestro Contrapunto," K. 354A), a minuet (K. 355), and a little gigue (K. 574) guaranteed to bring a smile to your face (although reputedly in G major, it weaves its way drunkenly through all sorts of modally borrowed chords). The final track is a curiosity, Egarr's fortepiano imitation of the glass harmonica, in the adagio that Mozart wrote for that unusual instrument (K. 356). An eminently enjoyable and musicologically valuable disc to add to your collection.

Harmonia Mundi HMU 907387

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