Tomas Cotik and Tao Lin: Mozart: 16 Sonatas for Violin and Piano
Centaur Records

Violinist Tomas Cotik and pianist Tao Lin forged an especially strong bond on a number of earlier recordings of Schubert and Piazzolla, but this encompassing four-CD set of Mozart's Sonatas for Violin and Piano might be their most deeply connected collaboration to date. (The sixteen featured on this set were written between 1778 and 1788, a decade removed from the initial sixteen the 1756-born wunderkind composed between 1763 and 1766.) Internationally recognized as a soloist, chamber musician, and educator (currently Assistant Professor of Violin at Portland State University), Cotik has performed in orchestras such as the New World, Palm Beach, and Amarillo Symphonies, and was a member of the string quartets Amernet, Delray, and Harrington; however, his playing is perhaps most flatteringly presented in a duet context, his accompanist in this instance Lin playing a Steinway concert grand. Enhancing the release, recorded at All Saints Episcopal Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and totaling four-and-a-half hours, are detailed liner notes by Frank Cooper, Research Professor Emeritus in Musicology at the University of Miami, who provides cogent analyses of the music as well as historical context.

By Cotik's own admission, he wanted to capture to the greatest degree possible the natural sound of the violin shorn of any digital effects and also get out of the way, so to speak, of Mozart's music, the thinking being that the less the violinist imposed himself on it the more the essence of the composer's artistry would come through. That said, the recording is hardly an exercise is self-effacement as the musicians' personalities are indelibly stamped on the performances.

The set opens on an exuberant note with the Allegro con brio of the K. 301, each partner's trills conveying delight. It's not the only time such ebullience surfaces on the recording, as shown by the Allegro di molto in the K. 305 and the celebratory abandon of the K. 306's Allegro con spirito. The violinist's artistry is on display throughout, whether it be executing uptempo passages with seeming ease—the K. 376's Allegro, the K. 526's Molto allegro, and the K. 378's Rondeau but three examples—or voicing a tender melody with sensitivity and nuance, as occurs, for example, during the Adagio sections in the K. 303 and the Andante cantabile in the K. 306. The composer's playful, even mischievous, side comes to the fore during the K. 302's Rondeau; a palpable sweetness, on the other hand, characterizes the Tempo di Minuetto in the K. 377.

Notable for being the only instrumental piece in its key of the more than 600 works credited to Mozart, the K. 304 in E Minor is also known for having been composed during the time of his mother's death; it's also understandably expressive, its dark Allegro lively in accordance with the form yet subtly tinctured with grief. And though Mozart's genius is well-documented, it nevertheless startles to think he composed the three-movement K. 296 in C Major in a single day.

Cotik and Lin repeatedly show themselves to be simpatico partners, whether playing in unison or in glorious counterpoint; their voicing of Mozart's material in all its clarity, poise, and balance suggests both deep engagement and sincere affection for the composer, and their interplay registers as an extended dialogue between two equally dedicated interlocutors; for proof, look no further than their performance of the K. 526, which is, as Cooper rightfully describes it, scintillating. It's telling that both musicians' names are displayed at the same size on the cover: Cotik might assume the primary melodic role, but Lin's playing is as indispensable. Any number of illustrations show as much, but his buoyant pas de deux with Cotik in the Allegro moderato of the K. 378 and his dominant turn in the second movement of the K. 379 (as Cotik plays pizzicato) are evidence enough. Mozart's melodies sing rapturously in their hands, and suffice it to say, any listener in the market for a consistently satisfying account of these Mozart works could do a whole lot worse than choose this one.

February 2018