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Label:
  Philips Classics - http://www.deccaclassics.com/
Serial:
  475 6200
Title:
  Mozart: Sonatas for Piano & Violin - Uchida/Steinberg
Description:
  Mozart: Sonata in F major K.377, Sonata in C major K.303, Sonata in E minor K.304, Sonata in A major K.526

Mitsuko Uchida (piano)
Mark Steinberg (violin)
Track listing:
 
Genre:
  Classical - Chamber
Content:
  Stereo/Multichannel
Media:
  Hybrid
Recording type:
  DSD
Recording info:
 

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Related titles: 1


 
Reviews: 4 show all

Review by ramesh October 25, 2005 (18 of 18 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
This recording is in 5 channel DSD and stereo, although the liner tray states 3 channel.

I have had this disc since its release, and after initially feeling rather cool towards it, it has become my favourite post-Grumiaux, post-Oistrakh disc of the Mozart 'sonatas for keyboard and violin'. My initial coolness had to do with the recording balance of the instruments, and to this end, I corresponded with the recording engineer, Everett Porter, who also furnished me with material on the violinist. I will quote him in entirety, then discuss the violinist Mark Steinberg.

Mr Porter wrote: "The commercial side of Decca was certainly not involved in musical balance. Mitsuko Uchida and Mark Steinberg WERE intimately involved in finding the right sound for this disc. As you may know, these sonatas are called 'sonatas for piano and violin' ( not the other way round ), and they are definitely NOT violin pieces with piano accompaniment. The piano is often the dominant voice, and the violin the accompaniment. Even so, many recordings present the violinist as the soloist, with the piano firmly in the background, which doesn't do this music justice. Mitsuko and Mark have played these pieces together for years, and both know the other's parts as well as their own, and which of them has the upper voice or melodic line, and always leave room for the other. The only way you can hear this- the essence of good chamber music playing- is if the instruments are presented as equal partners, much as you would in a quartet recording. We're not used to hearing this on violin/piano recordings!"
"About the sound…For this recording I used our own internal microphone electronics, Schoeps microphone capsules with their protective grids removed, van den Hul microphone and interconnect cables, and our custom mic preamps, which were directly connected to the DSD recording system ( no mixer or other electronics in between)."

Mark Steinberg is a Juilliard grad, and has presented these sonatas as an integral cycle with Uchida more than once, over the past twelve years. He is also the first violin in the Brentano quartet.
The four sonatas here are well chosen, including arguably the finest two in the cycle, the tragic E minor K304 written upon the death of Mozart's mother, and K526, with its lyrical central andante on nearly the same exalted level as its counterpart in the sublime clarinet quintet. Currently, there are two SACD cycles just initiated on period instruments; Podger on Channel, and Manze on Harmonia Mundi. This SACD is not part of a cycle.
The works on this disc are primarily contemplative, as the violinist states in his own liner notes, which are more 'Sex in the City' psychobabble than psychoanalytic. A sampler of Steinberg on K304; the "second movement laments the loss of the dance. There is a forlorn nostalgia here, by turns agitated and melancholy. The trio turns to a glowing E major, hope glimpsed through still-teary eyes temporarily washed of regret. The music is radiant, finding transcendence in the world of the spirit. The return of the minuet then dissolves into wisps of doubt before the movement comes to a severe, unforgiving end." Substitute 'Mr Big' for music, and it could be Carrie writing about her affair with him.

I searched through my volume of Mozart's Selected Letters for any reference to performing style of these sonatas, and couldn't find any. However, terminology is revelatory, for in a letter to his father on 28 Feb 1778, he writes, "I still have two of the six clavier sonatas to compose", referring to K301 to K306 inclusive. This Philips recording, from the Snape Maltings Concert Hall, presents the instruments as equal partners. The violin is presented, listening in stereo, in the plane of the speakers with the piano not far behind. Instead of a recording which opens into the acoustic of the recording venue, in my setup, it was very much an in-the-room ambience. The sound of both violin and piano is resplendent, laughably superior in detail, presence and lack of 'digititis' to the highly praised Perlman/Barenboim Mozart cycle, or Mutter's chamber recitals on CD. The sound of the violin is tightly coupled to the piano, with reduced separation, so this sounds like one hybrid instrument, rather than a duet. Where this will disconcert some chamber aficionados is that where there is a phrase written for one instrument and then repeated by another, this is what you get, at about the same volume, rather than the louder-softer 'echo' effect one is used to in string chamber duets. This is especially striking in K 304, where the piano and violin parts are compositionally more integrated than the rest of the 'Paris' sonatas quoted above in Mozart's letter. This unification of both instruments is testimony to the artistic unanimity of Steinberg and Uchida, where the phrasings between them are nearly identical.

Steinberg is a splendid violinist, not giving much away to his starrier colleagues in this repertoire. I was reminded of the fiddling of Pamela Frank, who made a well regarded set of Mozart concertos for the Arte Nova label a few years ago, though Steinberg's bowing appears fuller yet suppler in the cantabile passages on the D and A strings. A sampler passage to try for Uchida is track 7, the opening of K 304's second movement. It is very forward, certainly no accompaniment, in a highly poised vocal inflection reminiscent of her remarkable recording of the A minor Rondo K511. Some listeners may find it arch, though I felt it worked well in the context of the work. The performance of K 304 is a great one, without the disfiguring excesses in bowing style, dynamic shadings from piano to pppp, tempi, and vulgar sprint to the finish which marred Mutter's 'Berlin recital' on DGG 445826. ( Mutter took 11:53 in the first movement; Steinberg 9:39 and he is no Speedy Gonzalez here.)

In fact, this to me is one of Uchida's finest recent discs of the few I have heard. She has one SACD, which includes Schubert's Moments Musicaux. The piano sound here too is magnificent on SACD, also recorded by Mr Porter, but in the Musikvereinsaal. The piano in the Schubert could have had the violin part overdubbed here, to give an idea of the prominence of the keyboard in the Mozart SACD. Artistically, the presence of a partner seems to have tempered Uchida's tendency to self communing expansiveness in tempi, with hyperfine Michelangeliesque dynamic nuances which made the Schubert works on the SACD somewhat charmless. Mutter seems to have set the agenda against her accompanist. However Uchida-Steinberg work well as a team. He makes the most of the violin part in the ethereal andante of K526, without sliding into Mutter's latter day preciousness. In principle, his tempo here is too plodding, but the beautiful poise of the piano part and the lack of exaggeration in his moulding of phrases persuade eloquently.

In terms of the violin piano balance, the closest analogue in the recordings I have are the sonatas from Kagaan/Richter in the early 70's on EMI 72435 74293, though these artists took every repeat possible. The Perlman/Barenboim set from the early 80's had a more traditional balance, but this set was notable for the equality and rapport between the two ( as Perlman had displayed with Ashkenazy earlier in Beethoven ). Of the discs I heard, the general impression was the bubbliness and opera buffa elements in their interpretations, whereas Steinberg and Uchida have selected, and played nearly to the hilt but not beyond, Mozart's lyrical serenity.

The four works here form a well sequenced and satisfying recital. Playing the entire disc through demonstrates yet more subtleties, in the way these artists create a slightly different sound and textural field for each of these four works, rather more so than Perlman and Barenboim. For instance, K 303 immediately precedes K 304 on this disc. The violin part here is freer and more discursive, less tethered to the piano, and this is reflected in Steinberg's phrasing, though it wasn't evident to me except after a few plays. The Goldberg/ Lupu set on Decca from the early 70's had equally affecting phrasing from both partners, but the violinist's tone was starting to rust. Grumiaux's performances with Haskil, and later in the early 80's, plus Oistrakh's are still the paragons of musical style; and Szigeti's are of musical thought. ( Except his tone was far more acidulous than Goldberg's in the 70's)
If you have strong feelings about the balance in chamber works, or are incontrovertibly wedded to period instruments, listen first; if not, buying this SACD is a no-brainer. This disc is also highly recommendable to jazz lovers, not because the playing is improvisatory, for it is anything but. The beauty and delicacy of the phrasing, and how they are counterpointed from one instrument to the other and back in a spirit of democratic vitality are the fascinating strengths of this individual disc.

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Review by jlaurson October 10, 2007 (5 of 6 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Although I have mentioned this recording at about every opportunity I have had, I never actually wrote a review for it. Shocking. I don't think this Mozart disc was related in any way to the Mozart hoopla of his 250th birthday, but it emerged as the Mozart recording of 2005/2006, anyway. Is it Uchida and her assertive, unfailingly beautiful playing that elevates this disc and the works thereon to a whole new level? Is it Mark Steinberg's flawless, unselfconscious violin playing? Is it the expedient choice of works (K303, 304, 377, 526)? Given that I've heard these works with other, very fine, musicians and was not entirely convinced of their repeat-listening merit, I suspect that it is a magical confluence of joy in music making that has beset Uchida/Steinberg. Of course I want more Mozart from these two players now. At the same time I am worried: can such musical love really be repeated? This is one of those rare, rare discs that are worthy of a full five stars for the performance.

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Review by fotodan November 12, 2005 (4 of 6 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
I bought this disc after having read the above review and am extremely happy with my purchase. There are more than 70 minutes of great music on this SACD which was taped in "The Maltings", Snape, UK, the venue for many fine recordings. Makes me long for more SACDs from Philips and DG and Decca.

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Works: 4  

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Violin Sonata in A major, K. 526
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Violin Sonata in C major, K. 303/293c
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Violin Sonata in E minor, K. 304/300c
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Violin Sonata in F major, K. 377/374e