Pianist Paul Badura-Skoda strips away the centuries from the time-worn classical music
Last year's concert by Viennese pianist Paul Badura-Skoda with the A. Mozart Fest Orchestra was a lesson about authenticity.
Decades ahead of a trend that bloomed in the Eighties and Nineties, Badura-Skoda was dusting off Mozart-era forte-pianos and stripping away the centuries of romantic interpretation to bring us closer to what Mozart's contemporaries heard. But his performance of three Mozart works for piano and orchestra showed that he didn't need an antique piano to convey the essence of Mozart. Badura-Skoda could probably do that with an accordion.
"He knows all about performance practice because he came from the tradition in the purest form. It is part of his personality," says A. Mozart Fest director Mary Robbins, who is bringing Badura-Skoda back to Austin for a solo recital on Sunday, March 23.
Some historical fundamentalists are content to read scores literally, steadfastly refusing to warm up luscious, 200-year-old melodies, perhaps to escape the smothering orbit of romanticism. But Badura-Skoda nurtures his phrases without apology, and you understand why.
Sometimes leaping off the bench to cue the orchestra, Badura-Skoda communicated such a sense of logic and purpose that he wove the musicians and audience into an unforgettable experience. He and Robbins, who have had a musical relationship for more than a decade, sparred in the Concerto for Two Pianos, daring each other with the tempos and creating the sort of dialogue vital to improvisational music but too often left for dead in what we now call classical music.
Mozart's architecture was preserved, but Mozart had not left the building.
"The beauty of the music, and the experience of it, is foremost," Robbins says. "If he thought an ornament would be too fast in the hall because of the acoustics, he would leave it out. If there was an ornament that could have a turn and a trill, he would choose the simpler way, even though it could be flashier."
Fifty years after his first U.S. tour, the 75-year-old musician, scholar, and author, embraces the past and looks to the future: performing and recording not only on historical and contemporary instruments, but on electronic concert grands. He'll play a modern Steinway for his all-Viennese recital.
Badura-Skoda insisted that Robbins choose the program: Schubert's A-Minor Sonata, Op. 42, Haydn's F-Minor Variations, Mozart's C-Minor Fantasy, and Beethoven's Appassionata, a work that's immensely popular yet seldom performed, like the restaurant Yogi Berra spoke of that no one goes to anymore because it's too crowded.
"I thought I'd heard all the Appassionatas I ever wanted to hear," Robbins confesses. "Isn't that horrible?" Badura-Skoda's performance at the Van Cliburn Institute last year restored her awe for the masterpiece and increased it for the pianist. "I've heard many great performances of that piece, and many that weren't great. But I sat there thinking, 'I have lived this long only to hear this performance.' It swept everything I had ever heard right out. Backstage afterward, we were so in awe, no one could go shake his hand right away. 'You go first. No, you go first.'"
Paul Badura-Skoda performs Sunday, March 23, 3pm, at First Baptist Church, 901 Trinity. For information, call 454-TIXS or visit www.amozartfest.org.