In his latest album Mozart & Contemporaries, Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson presents some of his favourite Mozart keyboard works in the company of pieces by a selection of the composer’s leading contemporaries. Juxtaposing works by Mozart, Haydn and C.P.E. Bach with rarely-recorded Galuppi and Cimarosa, Mozart & Contemporaries dispels the image of Mozart as the angelic and prodigious idiot savant, instead presenting a mature composer through music primarily dating from the 1780s: a resourceful, hard-working adult who had come to know adversity. All is artfully brought together by Ólafsson’s signature thought-provoking programming.
Víkingur Ólafsson’s recordings of Philip Glass · Piano Works, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Debussy · Rameau, achieved global success with 225 million career streams and 320K albums sold.
Ólafsson comments: “I find this decade of Mozart’s life and art endlessly fascinating. Mozart was not just a composer, and I feel that when he was writing for himself as a virtuoso pianist he indulged more than ever in the sublime playfulness that lay at the core of his originality and inventiveness. This is the period when Mozart was not just perfecting the Classical tradition but subtly subverting it… the shadows are darker, the nuances and ambiguities more profound.”
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714–1788); Joseph Haydn (1732–1809); Baldassare Galuppi (1706–1785); and Domenico Cimarosa (1749–1801): “Perhaps all four provide a chance to calibrate the contemporary ear towards the prevailing ideas, styles and tastes of the times”, comments Ólafsson. “It is my hope that this particular context, a mix of the celebrated and the obscure, can slightly alter our psychological attunement, removing some of the baggage we all bring with us to Mozart’s music. This is in any case what I set out to do for myself: to approach even the best-known works of Mozart with the same freedom and childlike enthusiasm I felt upon discovering the rare and staggeringly lyrical works from the likes of Galuppi and Cimarosa.”
Mozart & Contemporaries provides a fascinating snapshot of a decade when changes were brewing, composers were experimenting, and Mozart was writing such visionary pieces as the Sonata in C minor K457. The album – the pianist’s fourth for Deutsche Grammophon – also includes Ólafsson’s own transcriptions: haunting arrangements of two sonatas by Cimarosa, plus a masterful solo piano transcription of the great Adagio in E flat major from Mozart’s String Quintet K516. To conclude the album, Mozart’s Adagio in B minor K540 quietly transitions into Franz Liszt’s transcription of the motet Ave verum corpus, composed in Mozart’s final year. The vocal lines’ ascension to the piano’s higher registers is viewed by Ólafsson as representing a final sense of death and transfiguration.
Ólafsson concludes, “I feel like, when I play Mozart, that I get to know myself as a musician. I get to know sides that I didn’t before. He seems to reflect your innermost core in music.”
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Mozart: Piano Sonata No. 16 in C major, K 545 Sonata facile II. Andante
Album available September 3, 2021