Mozart: Sonata No.18 in D

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COMPOSERS: Mozart
LABELS: Linn
WORKS: Sonata No. 18 in D, K576; Sonata No. 17 in B flat, K570; Ten Variations in G, K455; Fantasy in D minor, K397; Rondo in A minor, K511
PERFORMER: Gottlieb Wallisch (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CKD 352

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Artur Schnabel’s pronouncement on Mozart’s piano sonatas – ‘too easy for beginners, too difficult for artists’ – will never stale. No great composer leaves the pianist more exposed. His textures are so economical, his gestures so subtle, that the tiniest misjudgements can seriously sabotage a performance.

Wallisch is in many ways a highly attractive Mozartian, commanding a beautiful (if rather opaque) tone, a discerning sense of proportion and a keen but discreet articulation, all complemented by a suitably graceful formality.

His sound and approach, however, are far removed from the translucent focus of the fortepiano – all the more so in an acoustic suggestive of an empty gymnasium. His phrasing, too, ranges disconcertingly from the elegant to the downright pedestrian, as metre triumphs over flowing rhythm.

One instance comes in the Adagio of K576, where too many beats receive near-identical accents. Like the colouristic palette, the overall dynamic range is relatively narrow; characterisation is cautious.

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The shortfall in characterisation, however, lies less with acuteness of contrast than with scarcity of dialogue (in no composer is conversation more fundamental than in Mozart, whose operatic, developmental instincts informed everything he wrote). Yet Wallisch, thinking back to Schnabel, is without question an artist. Jeremy Siepmann