Daniel Adam Maltz presented a recital of keyboard sonatas by Haydn and Mozart at the Jeremiah Lee Mansion Sunday afternoon. However, he did not perform them on the piano. Instead, he played a forerunner of the modern instrument, generally called the fortepiano. Maltz tours extensively, traveling with his own replica of an Anton Walter fortepiano built in 1792.
It is always refreshing to see young artists so committed to an artistic idiom. Maltz is a classicist, and he has dedicated himself to the music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, all of whom lived in Vienna, where he is now based.
Those who study this repertoire are often dismayed by some of the “instructions” the composers have written into the score. We see slurs that don’t make sense to the 21st-century pianist, pedal indications that seem absolutely dreadful on the modern instrument, and dynamic indications that don’t really “work” musically: or so we think. As Maltz explained in his presentation, the 18th-century fortepiano on which both Haydn and Mozart (and later Beethoven) played provides the perfect vehicle for their music, and the slurs, pedaling, and dynamics were precisely what they intended for that instrument.
The audience responded to the recital enthusiastically, and the applause was well-deserved. A catalogue of highlights will fail to do justice to the artist, but I shall mention a number of these:
In the improvisatory style of the classical period, Maltz invariably embellished the melodic line when he repeated the expositions of the sonata-form movements. Most interesting of these were the first movements of the two Mozart sonatas.
Maltz also displayed excellent taste in his choice of tempi. For example, he took the last movement of the Haydn F Major — which is marked “Presto” — at a rapid pace, yet not so quickly as to distort the clarity of the musical lines. Far too many performers tend to take the faster movements at an excessive speed, to the detriment of the music.
I was delighted by the marvelous dynamic contrasts Maltz projected. The subtle gradations enabled him to shape his lines beautifully, and I must applaud the dynamic conception in the slow movement of the Haydn F Major, which was particularly effective.
Maltz’s fortepiano has no “pedals,” and he relies on a mechanism controlled by the knee to perform the tasks of the damper pedal on the contemporary instrument. The knee lever produced some wonderful sounds in passages marked by a single, long pedal in the slow movements of both Mozart sonatas, especially in the section with thirds in the F Major work. The first movement of the Haydn E-flat also had some marvelous pedaling.
I was most impressed by the performer’s very sensitive phrasing and use of agogic accents throughout the recital. The first movement of the Haydn E-flat and the last movement of the Mozart F Major were particularly commendable.
Of course, I would be categorically remiss if I neglected to mention the famous (or notorious) slurs, particularly those in the first movement Mozart’s F Major sonata. Here again, Maltz demonstrated that the composer was writing for the Viennese fortepiano of perhaps the 1770s and 1780s, for which these indications worked very nicely. Alas, the results are far less convincing on a today’s piano.
All told, the recital was a triumph for the fortepianist. Maltz is a marvelous and sincere artist, devoted to the musical idioms of the stylistic period he most enjoys. He is careful and deliberate, yet his performance also projects the dramatic intent, musical personality, warmth, and even the humor we find in the scores. Above all, he presents a compelling case for the fortepiano and how very different the music of these immortal composers sounds on the instrument for which it was conceived. It was a privilege to hear an artist of this calibre, and I hope he can return in the future.
Lenny Abelson Cavallaro is a musician and also author of The Ibbur’s Tale and Sherlock Holmes and the Mysteries of the Chess World.