Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us

Haydn, Mozart & Beethoven on Fortpiano

Haydn Piano Sonata in C HXVI:50
Cramer 11 Variations on Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen from Mozart's Magic Flute
Mozart Piano Sonata in F K. 332; Fantasia in C minor K. 475
Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 18 in E flat Op. 31 No. 3
Mendelssohn Song without Words




Malcolm Bilson fortepiano Wigmore Hall 20 July 2010

This was a gratifying Wigmore Hall recital, attracting a large appreciative audience. Bilson's fortepiano sounded mercifully quieter there than a Steinway concert grand on full throttle, and it took only moments for piano enthusiasts to accustom themselves to the qualities of the fine McNulty/Walter instrument.

Malcolm Bilson brought infinite subtleties of expression to all the chosen works and there were special insights to be gleaned from each one, especially for those of us familiar with the music.

The Haydn sonata was highly dramatic and had a moment of magic with 'open pedal'. The popular Mozart sonata, "too easy for 9-year olds and too difficult for the world's greatest artists" [Schnabel] has a slow movement whose highly decorated repeat in the first edition "can serve as a model for embellishment where Mozart has not provided it" [Bilson's own programme note]. His Fantasia (without the usually associated sonata K.was 457) revealed the instrument's surprising dynamic range, and with its every register exploited for melodic or dramatic point making, its effect was entirely different from the same piece on a modern piano.

The strenuous Beethoven sonata, "one of the most improvisatory and humorous", tested Bilson's technique in its most virtuosic passages, but he brought it to a heroic conclusion and it was important to demonstrate the range and power of the aparently humble instrument; I guess Beethoven himself would not have been note-perfect performing it. Charming Cramer variations and a Mendelssohn piece brought moments of relaxation into a demanding programme.

Bilson has been campaigning for Beethoven on fortepianos for a long time, with a notable series of recordings, recently reissued, so we were told, made with his Cornell University students "on the instruments for which he conceived the sonatas".

Peter Grahame Woolf

See Bilson playing Haydn at an Esterhaza Castle in Hungary