Mozart: Sonate all’Epistola Church Sonatas

Dutch Baroque Orchestra, Gerard de Wit
Dutch Baroque Records

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Those unfamiliar with Mozart’s Epistle Sonatas, composed when he was a teenager working as Konzertmeister at Salzburg Cathedral, are in for an unexpected delight. I first came across these pieces on a 1989 Hyperion recording by The King’s Consort (CDA66377) and was instantly charmed by their guileless, sunlit character. Composed at a time before the 16-year-old became disenchanted with the restrictions of musical life in Salzburg, these bubbling scores speak of the excitement of having the context and resources to have his music performed in a spectacular setting such as the great cathedral. It is surely no coincidence that this building boasts a choice of four organs, theatrically placed in galleries around the cross. Although he didn’t compose much music for organ, Mozart was a keen player and an admirer of the instrument, and while the organ parts in these sonatas are subtly integrated, they are nonetheless idiomatic and effective and become more independently prominent as the set progresses. The present recording uses two solo violins with a continuo group comprising solo cello, organ, double bass and supplementary bassoon. The Smits organ used in this recording was made in 1839, although it retains many features of 18th-century builds, and has a pleasant tone and range of stops, all carefully detailed in the programme notes, and is housed in a stunningly beautiful dark-wood case. To introduce the instrument, the CD opens with Mozart’s F-minor Adagio and Allegro, written for a mechanical clock, but a very effective organ piece in its own right. Furthermore, throughout the programme we have two further organ works by Mozart, the G-minor Fugue KV401 and F-major Piece for Keyboard KV33B played a quatre mains by Gerard de Wit and Bert Augustus. You wonder how there is room for all this ‘bonus’ material, particularly as The King’s Consort account runs to just under an hour, until you realise that the present recording only includes 14 of the 17 Sonatas Mozart composed – only those for two violins and continuo. So an odd decision perhaps to choose only some of the sonatas and then fill up the space with organ works. The performances here are fresh and imaginative, but I can’t help missing the other four sonatas for chamber orchestra with wind and percussion. This is a consideration when planning to invest in the new Dutch Baroque Orchestra recording as opposed to the fine 1989 King’s Consort complete performance.

D. James Ross

One reply on “Mozart: Sonate all’Epistola Church Sonatas”

I’ve got something rattling around in my head about ‘no cellos in Salzburg – bassoons were the 8′ instrument, or this was left to organ LH with double basses at 16’. Any thoughts?

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