Much is made, and rightly, of nonagenarian Menahem Pressler’s
continued longevity and his still vivid place in studio life. Spare a
thought, too, for Paul Badura-Skoda, who is now eighty-six - at the time of
writing - and, like Pressler, continues to record. In one respect, at least,
his latest release turns the tables on his distinguished contemporary - as
far as I know Pressler has never recorded on a fortepiano.
It’s to this instrument that Badura-Skoda turns in his
presentation of these three Mozart sonatas. He plays on a Viennese c.1790
Anton Walter fortepiano - that’s how I interpret the detail in the
jewel case listing, as there’s nothing about it in the booklet - which
sounds to have been maintained in generally good condition. Badura-Skoda may
not seem the most likely candidate for the fortepiano given his long career
as a pianist of distinction, but in fact his sensitivity and attention to
clarity serve him very well on the instrument. He has to remain the master
of such details because the Walter is a somewhat nasally-toned beast, and
somewhat prone to a clangy sound. This can be initially distracting, even
off-putting, but I suggest sticking with Badura-Skoda.
The pleasures of sticking with him can be enjoyed in the so-called
, the famed C major, the first of two in this key
programmed one after the other. Badura-Skoda’s sense of fun and
expressive precision dovetail very attractively, whilst he attends
diligently to the Alberti bass in the slow movement as his right hand
gracefully explores the lyricism inherent in the music. He makes a fine
showing of some opportunities for dynamic contrast in the finale. K330 gives
him an opportunity to bring to the fanfare figures a different kind of
sonority, whilst the extensive runs are controlled with considerable grace.
Such is his modus operandi in this sonata; sample the little detonations in
the left hand, and the rhythmic buoyancy he brings to the Allegretto.
The Sonata in A major, the sonata that’s not in sonata form, is
notable for his elegant observation of its grazioso
arguably there are moments when the instrument fails fully to communicate
such. One notes the thoughtful way he tries to vary repeated phrases without
drawing attention, the charm of the central minuet and the Janissary Alla
finale, a famous moment that he plays with fine judgement. He ends
the recital with a sweetmeat, the Bread and Butter
in C major (Das
). This was attributed to Mozart in the nineteenth-century but
no one seriously believes it to be by him. It makes for a dainty close.
The recording was made at the Mozarthaus in Vienna and is
commendably clear. Admirers of this under-sung pianist will doubtless relish
the challenge of Badura-Skoda the fortepianist.