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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Leslie Tung, Theme and Variations, Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn

I discuss a CD this morning on a central institution of form in the classical world, the Theme and Variations (MSR MS16833). This is a compendium of three sets of such things for solo piano by the likes of Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn. Leslie Tung realizes all three on piano with energy, drama. charm and contrasting grace. The instrument utilized is a 1983 copy of a circa 1795 instrument made in Munich by J. Dulcken. The primary sounds are a rather dry upper range and a somewhat wiry and fuzzy lower range. It is slightly brighter than the typical period pianoforte of the day, yet nontheless can be recognized as a copy of an early instrument by those telltale high and low registers. Absent is the kind of intonationally quasi-untempered quality one sometimes gets with the older models.

The Mozart Variations on "Unser Dummer Pobel Meint" in G Major, K. 455 and the Haydn Andante with Variations in F minor, Hob.XVII:B show us in every way the inventive brilliance of these Classical Era masters. The concluding Beethoven "Eroica" Variations and Fugue in E-Flat Major, Op. 35 goes them one step further with one of Beethoven's most well loved themes and then gives us inventions characteristically model building the way Beethoven can be nearly extra-terrestrial.

The theme and variations of course historically was as much or even more a live and spontaneous showcase for the inventive brilliance of a living composer-instrumentalist. Bach was famous for his. But then so were the composers represented here, supreme masters all.  An on-the-spot set of T & V's were unexpected, surprising and as in-the-moment as a Jazz master improviser can be today. The written out versions we hear are the next best thing and we are lucky to have them and hear them still.

Tung plays reflectively, like he was made for the music, which clearly he is. The approach centers around density, velocity, variety and of course contrast. It is actually fun to listen to this music, as it should be.

Leslie Tung gives us the period-dynamo sound we need for these. Beautiful.

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