On Sunday 8 October, local musician (clavichord, fortepiano, traverso) Ivan Foo presented An Evening with Mozart at St Mark’s Church in Hunters Hill. This is the second concert by Ivan Foo that I have attended, and it appeared many in the audience were also repeat attendees.
I admire any amateur musician who is confident enough in their musicianship to stage a solo performance. Ivan played with considerable confidence, poise, and musical intelligence in his all-Mozart program. It was advertised under the title Twinkle Twinkle Little Star which belied the difficulty of the Mozart works he had chosen to play.
The program included two Sonatas (no. 4 in Eb major; no. 8 in D maj), two Rondos (D maj and A min), one Fantasie (D min) and Variations in C (a la Twinkle Twinkle). His careful choice of pieces in a variety of major and minor keys gave us music ranging from the lively and spritely, festive and celebratory, mystical and ethereal, to the melancholy and emotionally deep. The program was presented in two sections of three works each, but played on two different keyboards. After the third piece, the keyboard was removed like a drawer out of a dresser, and replaced with another. Ivan explained that one keyboard contains two layers of deerskin on the hammers and the other has three, which provides a quite different sound. His fortepiano, a most splendid looking and sounding instrument, is a replica of an original made by the most famous Viennese piano maker of the period, Anton Walter. Mozart purchased a Walter fortepiano in 1782 and was so attached to it he took it with him everywhere he went. So it was quite wonderful to enjoy Mozart played on a replica of the piano he used when composing several of these pieces, and on which he certainly performed them.
Ivan spent several minutes before his performance explaining the difference between a modern piano and a fortepiano, why it sounds different (admitting that when he first heard a fortepiano he thought it sounded like a ‘tin can’!!), and highlighting its unique features – in short, where the modern piano sings, the fortepiano speaks. He also gave us a quick lesson in temperaments, which was probably a new musical concept to more than half present, and explained the relationship of this to the various keys of the music he would play. I really enjoyed this educational prelude as it alerted me to several things to listen for, and helped me better understand the music. Ivan’s program notes were also very informative with a good introduction to the fortepiano as well as information about each item.
The program opened with the Rondo in D maj, written by the 30 year old Mozart, only a few years before his untimely death. The Rondo theme was drawn from a Bach quintet but typical of Mozart who was always ‘pushing the envelope’ he breaks away from the traditional Rondo rules, passing through five different keys. Ivan played with a boldness matched with tenderness in the quieter sections. His other choice of a Rondo, in the second half after changing to the more ‘moody’ sounding fortepiano keyboard, was the well-known and very moving Rondo in A minor, a key Mozart only composed in twice. The key of A min conjures up a sense of foreboding, grief, and deep emotion. Ivan performed this Rondo with great sensitively, demonstrating a wonderful lightness of touch at times, and conveying the emotional depths of the work.
Mozart’s Fantasie in D min, a key associated with the mysterious, melancholic and dramatic, came mid-point in the program. The opening bars seem more reminiscent of Beethoven piano works than Mozart; apparently when his sister discovered the previously unknown work in a first edition in 1807 (the original having been lost) she was quite astounded at the evidence of his genius at such an early age.
Two sonatas were performed, one in each section of the program. The first, in Eb major is the Mozart we know – joyful, light, and full of surprises (it ends with everything hanging in mid-air, as it were). Ivan played it joyously as well as thoughtfully in the more pensive middle movement. The second sonata, in D major, was the closing piece of the program. Mozart exploits the potential of the fortepiano in this sonata with his superb compositional techniques, including a cadenza which was not a common feature of a sonata at the time.
The piece de resistance for me was the Variations in C. Essentially, a set of improvisations on the well known tune, in Mozart’s day a French nursery rhyme and not yet the Twinkle Twinkle we are familiar with. Mozart wrote this at 22 years of age, and in my imagination I see him wanting to amuse a friend’s children – so he sits down at his fortepiano and plays through the popular tune with those present singing along. And then with a mischievous smile on his face he takes off …. a simple enough variation at first but rapidly becoming more and more complex, with amazing variations in key, rhythm, and harmony. Commonly in improvisations, one loses sight of the original theme sooner or later but not with Mozart. At no point in the 12 variations do you fail to hear some semblance of the original tune. Ivan seemed to relish the challenge of the ever more demanding variations and played them with gusto and obvious enjoyment – as the program noted “… a dazzling show of technical virtuosity”.
The program showcased the best of Mozart for fortepiano and was played by Ivan Foo with panache and expressiveness, capturing the emotions inherent in the works, from joy to melancholy. It was a thoroughly enjoyable and musically satisfying performance.