Mozart: Piano Sonatas and Rondos

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COMPOSERS: Mozart
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Piano Sonatas Nos 4, 5, 10, 12, 13, 16, 17 & 18; Rondo in D, K485; Gigue in G, K574; Rondo in A minor, K511; Fantasia in D minor, K397
PERFORMER: Marc-André Hamelin (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 68029

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‘He has recorded some 50 albums for Hyperion’, proclaims the booklet of Marc-André’s Hamelin’s latest Hyperion issue. The range of repertory they cover, Haydn via Alkan to Villa-Lobos, as it were, with several extraordinary collections of virtuoso esoterica along the way, is every bit as phenomenal as the encyclopaedic keyboard mastery and original, all-embracing musicianship informing each one. Mozart sonatas, however, are a Hyperion first: and as these two discs bear out, they pose tests quite as searching, in their way, as any Hamelin has previously undergone.

On the difficulty of finding the key to this music, Artur Schnabel’s judgment is always worth repeating: too easy for children, he said, too difficult for adults. Hamelin’s six Haydn CDs have added him, I’d say, to the shortlist of most revelatory Haydn interpreters on record; but then beneath their surface Haydn’s sonatas – ceaselessly inventive, always formally exploratory, often inimitably playful – are entirely different from Mozart’s. And in Mozart I find Hamelin’s success rate less uniform. His extreme refinement of phrase and dynamics, his endlessly fresh approach to detail and breadth of line can be taken for granted: the first item, the late D major Sonata No. 18 has rarely burst off the page so full of vivacity and muscular energy.

Of much else the same can be said. It’s in slow movements, notably No. 10, K330’s beautifully unadorned Andante cantabile, and the equally bare A minor Rondo, K511, that a quality of alien sophistication, interpretative restlessness almost, tends to interpose itself. For me the results, never less than richly absorbing from the purely technical point of view, ultimately fail to resolve the Schnabel paradox.

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Max Loppert