The Other Mozart – Barbara Bonney

0 of 5 stars

F. X. Mozart
Sechs Lieder
Romanze: In der Väter Hallen ruhte, Op.12
Acht Deutsche Lieder
An Emma, Op.24
Sechs Lieder, Op.21
Drei Deutsche Lieder, Op.27

Barbara Bonney (soprano) & Malcolm Martineau (piano)

Recorded between 1-5 March 2005 in Henry Wood Hall, London

Reviewed by: Ying Chang

Reviewed: December 2005
CD No: DECCA 475 6936
Duration: 62 minutes

“The Other Mozart” is Franz Xaver, son of Wolfgang Amadeus, who was born in the year of Wolfgang Amadeus’s death, 1791. Franz Xaver lived into the era of high romanticism and died in 1844. Franz Xaver’s lineage, some enthusiastic early reports from his teachers (not least Salieri!) and the influence of his mother, Mozart’s widow Constanze, ensured that Franz Xaver’s talents as a pianist and composer allowed him a career. He grew up and lived his last years in Vienna, but spent most of his adult life in and around Lvov (in present-day Ukraine). Constanze complained of his easy-going nature; whether this was the cause of his limited success is not known.

There is no doubt that this release instantly becomes the highest-profile recording of Franz Xaver’s work, his complete songs, 27 in total. It is beautifully performed and presented – Barbara Bonney’s light, fresh voice, the purity of her tone and the accuracy of the high notes is reminiscent of Elly Ameling’s collection of less well-known Schubert songs. There is equally no doubt that Franz Xaver’s songs are civilised, tuneful, and easy on the ear. Malcolm Martineau’s accompanying is carefully crafted; the rapport between singer and pianist is notable.

As Bonney herself admits in her booklet essay, these songs are above all of musicological interest. The early songs remind of Wolfgang Amadeus’s own songs, with graceful piano-writing and aria-like design. By the end of the disc, the songs are significantly more Schubertian (Weber is mentioned in the notes as a likely comparison).

If the last degree of ‘X-factor’ compositional inspiration is not present – Franz Xaver’s songs hint, or gesture broadly at mood-painting, rather than intensely expressing emotion – the melodies are always pleasing; above all, for those used to the Romantic flowering of Lieder, the music can adhere too slavishly to the speech rhythms of the text, and the piano is rarely independent, except with decorative figurations. “An spröde Schönen” is a “Heidenröslein clone, but whereas Schubert’s famous setting is breathtaking in its simplicity and innocence, F.X. Mozart’s is over-fussy. “Heidenröslein” is far from my favourite Schubert song or Goethe poem, but it is easy to recognise its greater force and originality. “Romanze” sets a ballad poem. It is long and becomes tedious – again, I don’t especially like Schubert’s teenage “Der Taufer”, which might be a fair comparison, but it is far bolder.

Perhaps, unsurprisingly, the lightest songs are the most successful – “Mein Mädchen” trips along delightfully, and “An die Bäche” has a satisfying sparkle, even if it never has the strength of personality of Schubert’s many ‘water songs’.

Opinion will range from finding this a charming recital of unexpected and unknown delights to thinking that the songs are too slight. If the former, the disc will be played often; and certainly this worthy project – very much determined by Barbara Bonney – has been impeccably executed.

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